By Hope Chizuzu
THE draw for the 2014 Fifa World Cup draw in Rio de Janeiro last Saturday night not only gave us the identity of the teams
we have to beat to get to Brazil but had a number of interesting sub-plots.
The World Cup will return to Brazil, for the first time in 64 years, and it is clear Fifa want to make it a spectacle given that football is going back to the country that perfected the game.
Brazil and football are synonymous and, while the Samba Kings are yet to win a World Cup since Ronaldo powered them to success in South Korea/Japan in 2002, they remain every neutral's favourite soccer team.
Fifa ensured that the 2014 World Cup draw will feature the past, the present and the future faces of Brazilian football and the great Pele had a front-row seat while superstars like Bebeto and Cafu conducted the draw.
Ronaldo, one of only two players to win the Fifa World Player of the Year three times (the other is Zinedine Zidane), retired from football on February 14 this year after leaving a legacy as one of the greatest players to grace the game.
He played 97 matches for Brazil and scored 62 goals and overtook German legend Gerd Muller as the highest goalscorer at the World Cup finals when he took his tally to 14.
So, given his illustrious record for Brazil and for world football, it was probably natural that Fifa would use the Ronaldo brand as part of their draw for the 2014 World Cup.
However, for some of us looking beyond just the images coming out on television, the appearance of Ronaldo at that draw provided a throwback to the dark shadow of Asiagate.
For the record, Ronaldo was fingered in the damning Asiagate report by Luke Masomere who, according to the Zifa committee, said he was shown a video of the Brazilian superstar being paid by the
Asian Mafia to feign injury ahead of the World Cup final in 1998.
The report also talks about Masomere saying he was shown a video of Roberto Carlos and other Brazilian players being paid to throw away matches by the same Asian match-fixing Mafia, which we are told boasted that if they could fix the Samba Kings' games, and get away with it, who then cared about Zimbabwe?
It's all in that report, which has been in the hands of Fifa since their Congress in Zurich in June, and has also been circulated widely, using the media, which has picked whatever has attracted its interest.
Given the extent that Ronaldo's name has been damaged, as detailed in the Zifa report, Fifa's decision to invite him to conduct the draw had a number of hidden messages to football analysts like me who have been closely following the Asiagate saga.
One of them could be that Fifa read all the negative stuff about him and decided there was nothing to warrant them to make a decision, barring Ronaldo from the draw, based on the evidence provided by Zifa.
I have followed the issue since that appearance by Ronaldo on the grand stage and some of the feedback I have been getting from my Fifa sources has been interesting.
What I have picked out is that there is growing pressure, within Fifa, for the world football governing body to keep itself clear from Asiagate because of fears it could damage its 2014 World cup showcase because of its damaging innuendoes on Brazil.
"What President (Sepp) Blatter could not understand was how they would want to drag Fifa into this by insinuating that the France ‘98 World Cup final could have been fixed and that Ronaldo could have received money to fix a World Cup final," said one of my Fifa sources.
He told me that high-ranking Fifa officials have described the Asiagate report as lacking in detail and clarity to enable any competent body to build a case for prosecution, lending weight to legal experts' fears that the exercise cannot stand legal scrutiny.
One of my Fifa insiders said Blatter's exact words were that the report, "was too disappointing to merit a committee attention".
I spoke to a legal expert, within Fifa, who chose to remain anonymous, as I tried to find clarity on how the world football governing body could go ahead and use Ronaldo at its draw despite the damaging allegations contained in the Asiagate report.
He told me that the feeling within the Fifa hierarchy was that most of the submissions were defamatory and could barely pass any veracity test.
""Listen, the issue of match fixing is not a joke, where everyone can just come out and say anything and you believe them.
"Remember (Fifa security chief, Chris) Eaton and his team went to Malaysia to investigate the same allegations and, ironically, some of the matches like the Merdeka Cup referred in the Zifa report were investigated and all material and details was availed by FAM.
"Details of payments from FAM were also availed and from Eaton's judgment of the matter, Malaysia had no case to answer and nothing pointing to a possible match-fixing syndicate can be derived," the legal expert told me.
Maybe the following editorial, from leading Malaysian newspaper, Malaysia Mail, puts all this into context.
"Contrary to beliefs that FAM could have unknowingly been used by agents of match-fixing, involving a Singaporean based Raj Perumal, Fifa have found the association clear after a team led by Chris
Eaton said there is no evidence linking FAM or its associates and employees to the practice," said the newspaper.
"Although the Fifa team found that some matches could have been played in Malaysia, no evidence was obtained to nail FAM or visiting teams to involvement in match fixing including matches involving
African teams such as Zimbabwe which has instituted investigations into some matches".
The Fifa legal expert said Fifa were unlikely to issue a report on that as some of the contents leave them in an awkward position but could seek to advise Zifa on how best the matter can be handled.
"In fact the Legal Committee may be writing Zifa on how best matters of that nature can be handled but Fifa felt they had been embarrassed enough with some leaks to the media of the report.
"Fifa do not run associations, they advise. In short that report has so many suspects that even the best legal minds in the game will not be able to nail down the real culprits because it seems like every player who travelled to play any of these matches is a suspect, as well as doctors.
"It will be a very difficult to build a case to bring before any court," he told me.
Having spoken to the Fifa insiders, I took my case to Zifa chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze, who advised me that he could not comment as it was a delicate case.
"Why can't you try the acting president Ndumiso Gumede, as Mr Dube (Cuthbert) is away until August 13?
"The Zifa board has not met and we are only going to do that on August 19 and I believe after that, a position will be taken but in the meantime I can not really say anything and I hope you will understand my position."
In the wake of match-fixing scandals, Fifa has poured millions of dollars into Interpol to assist in investigations of suspected cases.
In Europe alone, UEFA, with 54 associations, monitors 29 000 matches per year, with the assistance of 400 betting companies.
In July a powerful team of lawyers, judges and crack Interpol security helped in the investigation that saw Rene Schnitzler banned by Germany Football Federation (DFB) for two and half years for accepting 100 000 Euros to fix Second Division matches in 2008. Schnitzler was playing for St Pauli at the time and dropped into regional football when he left the club the following year.
"Schnitzler admitted to the disciplinary panel that he met a Dutch gambler and mediator and discussed manipulating five championship matches involving St Pauli between May 2008 and November 2008," said the DFB in a statement.
"He (admitted) that he received payments for four of these games, to influence the result in favour of the team's respective opponents."
Interestingly, the DFB ruled that it Schinitzler's shoddy dealings did not imply that the matches that he took part in were fixed.