Zimbabwe suspends 67 players over match fixing

The Zimbabwe Football Association on Monday finally made the bold move of suspending 67 players who were part of the ‘Asiagate’ match fixing scandal.

Players, coaches, journalists and football officials were paid huge bribes to cover up for the fact that the country’s national team, and at times a bogus one, was deliberately losing matches hosted in Asia as part of a betting scam.

The decision to suspend the players was made during an emergency board meeting and is the culmination of an explosive 162 page report produced by a four member probe committee led by ZIFA Vice President Ndumiso Gumede.

Under investigation were trips by the senior and junior national teams and Monomotapa between 2007 and 2009. ZIFA chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze said the players implicated must not be included in the national team unless they are cleared by an ethics committee.

"There were 80 players in all who took part in the games and we are saying all those players who were involved in five games or more should have nothing to do with the national team until they are cleared. We can't have players in the national team with issues to do with match-fixing," Mashingaidze said.

"The players have not been banned yet, but we just want to let justice take its course. The sentiment in Zimbabwe was that the team was failing to qualify for major tournaments since we were using players who had been tainted by this scandal,” Mashingaidze added.

Players who admitted taking money include former national team captain Method Mwanjali, Daniel Vheremu, Benjamin Marere and Thomas Sweswe. Other players to feature in the matches under investigation and who are members of the current squad include Nyasha Mushekwi, Khama Billiat and Ovidy Karuru.

According to the ZIFA report money was handed out by agents of Singaporean Wilson Raj Perumal, who is in jail in Finland for similar match fixing activities.

Decorated coaches like Sunday Chidzambwa, Luke Masomere, Rodwell Dhlakama, Methembe Ndlovu and Norman Mapeza were sucked into the scandal, having travelled with the teams on different occasions during their spells as coaches. One of the coaches, Joey Antipas, even admitted taking money.

Only last year ZIFA suspended three of its board members, including a former national team player and a former referee, for their alleged involvement in the scandal. The report produced by ZIFA made recommendations that players should be dealt with leniently, because not all of them knew the games were fixed.

It’s now feared if the allegations are properly prosecuted, it could wipe out an entire generation of coaches and football players as they all risk life bans under FIFA rules. FIFA chief Sepp Blatter warned, during a visit to Harare last year, that players and officials found guilty in the ongoing probe would face life bans.

Former ZBC sports commentator Ezra Tshisa Sibanda told SW Radio Africa that the suspensions were a bitter pill to swallow but were important in order to clean up the image of Zimbabwean football. He said the country was failing to attract major sponsors because of the negative image created by the match fixing scandal. – SW Radio Africa News

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