By George Byron
MILLIONAIRE soccer boss Tony Lovegrove has hit out at corruption which he claims is rife in South African soccer with referees and linesmen openly cheating to influence the outcome of crucial professional league matches.
Bay Stars owner Lovegrove, whose team narrowly missed out on the chance to represent Nelson Mandela Bay in the First Division next season, came out firing, saying the corruption needed to be exposed for the good of the game.
In an exclusive interview with Weekend Post, Lovegrove claimed that:
* Support staff and players are “bombarded” with offers to throw matches;
* Protesting questionable decisions will ensure match officials will be even more biased;
* There is no auditing of referees’ performances by top-level South African Football Association (Safa) officials;
* Clubs often field “illegal” players [a player who is not registered with the league, for example]; and
* Referees turn a blind eye to poor field conditions in lower leagues, if it happens to be the referee’s “preferred” team’s home ground
Lovegrove is not alone in his concern about the effects of widespread corruption in the sport with high-ranking Safa official Boya Chetty confirming that a top-level investigation into bribery and corruption was currently under way.
“I am a member of Safa’s protocol and security committee and we are currently investigating bribery and corruption at all levels of South African soccer,” Chetty said.
“Our findings will be released in due course.”
Lovegrove and fellow Stars owner Yusuf Adams ploughed R3.2-million into their team last season which played in the Vodacom League.
However Lovegrove believed the only reason the team failed to be promoted was because the “referees are all powerful”.
Citing the example of Stars having no fewer than 13 goals disallowed during the season, he said: “In the Vodacom League there was absolutely no consistency when it comes to refereeing.
“This makes winning games exceptionally difficult. The interpretation by officials of the rules is inconsistent in itself and there is no auditing from senior officials at Safa. This ultimately translates into each ref having absolute power to dictate the outcome of games.”
Lovegrove said players and support staff were also often approached with offers to take a bribe.
“Both our players and technical staff have come to me on occasions to highlight that they have been approached to influence a game. The owners are very rarely approached in this league, but the support staff and players are bombarded with offers to throw games.”
Lovegrove said his club had approached the regional office of Safa with their complaints, but it had not helped to eradicate the problem.
“In spite of the regional office of Safa being very sympathetic, it unfortunately does not go further.”
Lovegrove said his club had on several occasions asked Safa to address important strategic matters at a higher level to combat this issue.
However Safa Eastern Cape provincial secretary Isaac Klaas said his organisation had never received any complaints regarding the conduct of referees from Bay Stars.
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday July 14 2012.