The toxic politics of sport

WHEN European-backed African challenger Issa Hayatou stood against incumbent Sepp Blatter for the Fifa presidency in 2002, it was power politics at play — vested interests at their best.

Sport, by its nature, is as much played in the boardroom as it is played on the field.

Blatter, who comes from Switzerland, had never been popular in his own home continent after he first assumed power in 1998 following his defeat of Uefa boss Lennart Johansson, who had been the European confederation’s preferred choice.

Vilified persistently in Europe throughout his five terms, Blatter, however, enjoyed key support from Africa and other regions outside his home continent — which formed the basis of his long reign.

When it comes to vested interests — who represents your needs best — race, nationality and other differences are often not considered at the ballot box.

When power and money are at stake, this is to be expected.

An almost similar scenario, which has sparked the ire of many sports fans in South Africa, emerged last week after the continent’s rugby governing body, Rugby Afrique, reportedly went against South Africa in the vote to decide the 2013 World Cup hosts.

Rugby Afrique, it has been reported, voted for eventual winner France and, with that, helped deny an African country the third biggest sporting showcase on the planet after the Football World Cup and Summer Olympics.

The continental body’s president, Moroccan Abdelaziz Bougja, has however refused to confirm or deny that African rugby’s leadership turned its back on the continent’s strongest rugby nation.

His denial to disclose how they voted, though, seems more like a confirmation that Rugby Afrique indeed supported the French bid.

Vested interests you may like to call it. A democratic right, too, if you want. But on this one, the question of integrity and morality must not be ignored.

In whose best interests was that decision? Bougja owes the continent an explanation. He has flatly refused to do so.
He does not have to, though. It is quite clear why Rugby Afrique voted the way it did. The Francophone region controls rugby in Africa despite the game being much stronger in the lower part of the continent.

They have simply showed allegiance to the former colonial master, putting the integrity of African rugby at risk for the sake of old loyalties.

Bougja, the boss of African rugby, lives in France. This is scandalous.

If there was need for proof that rugby in Africa needs to change the way it is run, this is one.

The stronger rugby-playing nations in Africa like Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya must have a bigger say in how the game is administered in Africa.

They must reclaim the game.

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