Frustrated with South African delays, FIFA’s ethics committee prosecutor has opened an investigation into allegations of match-fixing in international friendlies in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup.
FIFA said in a statement to The Associated Press on Friday that Michael Garcia, the chairman of FIFA’s ethics committee investigating chamber, had moved ahead because the South African government had not yet set up an inquiry, seven months after it was agreed it would.
FIFA said Garcia “has decided to open a preliminary investigation on the alleged cases of match-manipulation in South Africa in view of the time elapsed” since South Africa had initially agreed to start its own probe.
FIFA found strong evidence that international friendlies played in the host country just weeks ahead of the World Cup three years ago were fixed, with allegations that the matches were manipulated by crooked referees working for illegal Asian betting syndicates.
The alleged fixing came dangerously close to football’s biggest event, with one of the games under suspicion the official opening of the Soccer City stadium in Soweto, the showpiece venue that hosted the World Cup final.
Although the exact games have not been identified, South Africa’s 5-0 win over Guatemala and 2-1 win over Colombia in May 2010, just before the World Cup, have long been under suspicion. Three penalties were awarded in each match, mostly for handball, with a number of the decisions questionable.
The move by FIFA’s ethics committee exposes a further breakdown in the relationship between the world body and its former World Cup host. South African sports minister Fikile Mbalula has criticized FIFA this week, accusing it of interfering in South Africa’s business.
FIFA said on Friday it was authorised to investigate under its ethics code if “if associations fail to prosecute potential breaches of that code.”
Mbalula led the South African delegation that met with FIFA in April, when it was agreed that South Africa’s government would set up an inquiry to look into the fixing. As part of the agreement, FIFA asked for Garcia to be included on the commission.
The inquiry is being handled by South African President Jacob Zuma but no progress has been announced in seven months and it appears the commission members to lead the investigation have not even been appointed.