It is hardly a new occurrence, really -- the alleged match fixing. Only that those involved in the actual, or its victims, have struggled for boldness to come out.
But Uganda Premier League (UPL) side, Onduparaka, showed some cojones last week, the West Nile releasing a statement saying that the vice had grown so much the game risked being eaten out completely. An "invasion", they called it.
“Onduparaka FC is concerned about the growing invasion of the Uganda Premier League (UPL) by persons whose sole agenda is to manipulate league games with promises of huge sums of money to those willing to adhere to their demands,” the club said in a statement.
The statement goes ahead to highlight how the club had been approached by several individuals asking them to sell matches, and calls upon all stakeholders to “protect the league from such self-seeking individuals.”
“We have made it very clear internally that any player or staff found engaging in match fixing will be automatically dismissed from the club.”
THE INSIDE STORY
What Onduparaka did not do, however, is name the said aggressors. Daily Monitor put it to the club that if they were really serious about fighting the vice, they had to come clean on who actually approached them.
Club patron Bernard Atiku said they will be writing to Fufa and Fifa. “We have their phone numbers and will expose them without fear or favour,” he told Daily Monitor. “We shall retrieve the voice records.”
Unscrupulous characters reportedly approached club chairman Benjamin Nyakuni and a player before games against Tooro United and Wakiso Giants, asking him to throw away the matches for millions, according to Onduparaka marketing, communications and PR head Mercy Grace Manduru.
“People would only make claims about it,” said Manduru. “Sometimes we would even notice the way some games are played, or the conduct of coaches and players, the way officials would officiate certain games, you would see it but of course there was no tangible evidence."
“The first evidence we had was when our former coach (Livingston Mbabazi is their most recent) told us he had been approached by some two gentlemen that he didn’t really name.
“They told him that if he wanted to get some money out of the league, he should sell certain games.
“So he told us that he out-rightly refused and these gentlemen had been calling him and at some point he blocked their numbers. He shared that with us as management to caution us. We let that pass.”
“So when we started the second half of the season, somebody WhatsApp-ed our chairman using what seemed to be an international number. So this person inquired from Nyakuni whether he was the chairman of Onduparaka, telling him he got his number from his associates and that he wanted to do business with him."
When the chairman asked the ''unwanted guest'' what kind of business he wanted to run with Onduparaka, he was told: “We want to help you manage your games and we will be paying you heavily for it. We are working with other clubs in the league,” said the alleged fixer.
Manduru added: “It was like a dream to our chairman,” she said. “And that was before we played Tooro. The guy (fixer) said, 'for example, for the Tooro game, if you allow to be beaten 3-0 in the first half, we will give you $10,000 (Sh1 million, Uganda Sh37m).”
"Just make sure the goals are scored in the first 30 minutes and then money is yours, and we can do business together.” Tooro lost that game by forfeiture after they failed to raise the minimum number of seven players, due to lack of licences, to start the match.
“Our chairman told them it’s against his beliefs and his faith and, therefore, he would not compromise his integrity. He wished the guy a good day.”
The fixer was taken aback. “You mean $10,000 is not enough? Do you want more money?” Nyakuni reportedly assured the guy he was not interested and ended the conversation.
“So when the chairman shared this with me and the rest of the team, we were really puzzled at how bold they are. Actually, the other guy wanted to call the chairman but he declined.”
Then after the 1-1 draw with Maroons, Onduparaka got another ''guest''. “Somebody called one of our players and said ‘we’ve just finished with the game of Police and Express, so we would like to work with you for your game against Wakiso Giants.”
Police annihilated Express 6-1 in that one. That, and the 7-1 whitewash of Kyetume by Onduparaka, are some of several games the public has raised eyebrows over.
The player asked the caller what he meant. “They then told him (the player), ‘Get three or four players, name your price, allow to be beaten by Wakiso Giants and let all the three goals be scored in the first half.
“Make sure in the four players the goalkeeper is included. The player declined but the caller insisted, telling him how they are not paid, how they have no money but he held his ground.”
Scared, the unnamed player called the club chairman and explained what just happened. “That’s when I told the chairman we need to make a public statement before we play the game.'' Onduparaka lost that one 1-0 to Wakiso Giants.
It is not clear whether these fixers are working for clubs or their own unscrupulous chains.
“The players who were allegedly called should help the football fraternity by naming the culprits as this would greatly help in investigations,” Ismael Kiyonga, Head of Corporate Affairs at Wakiso Giants, said.
“As a club, we are unaware of anything like this. We distance ourselves from such acts and we hope relevant authorities investigate the matter to the dot.”
Tooro United shareholder Smart Obed admits “there are wrong elements messing with our game but, as Tooro, we are not part of anything like that."
UPL, FUFA SPEAK OUT
Onduparaka’s Manduru said that after the statement went online, some people called ''advising'' them to pull it down, that many people were involved and it was not good for the club. “As Onduparaka, we shall speak out.”
Asked what they are doing about Onduparaka’s whistle blowing, the league CEO, Bernard Bainamani, said Onduparaka “should be summoned by the relevant judicial body of Fufa to own or disown the statement.
“If they own it, then, they help in providing evidence which will form the basis for more investigations and/or action by Fufa.”
Fufa spokesperson Ahmed Hussein says it is a “good decision taken by Onduparaka,” and “our football bodies will follow up in this serious matter as we need to protect the game.”
The FA have previously instituted the Dan Kidega-led commission early 2018 to probe alleged match fixing, where coaches, referees and some players appeared before the committee.
“Our judicial bodies have handled such cases before and some officials have since been banned from football,” said Hussein.
The officials said to have been banned include Bul FC CEO Salmin Saleh for two years, referee assessor Ndawula Shaban Mawanda for six months, centre referees Ali Kaddu and Ashraf Miiro, one year each.
Richard Kimbowa is, according to Hussein, still under investigation and cannot officiate. All these were found guilty of tampering with matches in the Kidega commission.
However, this report has never been made public. “Matters raised in the report may go public while others are handled by the executive,” insisted Hussein.
“Ethical matters have been made public by handing individuals sanctions while others were just a matter of work procedures that needed Fufa to align its members, staff and other football officials.”
Police have also previously probed Uganda’s 2-0 away defeat to Guinea (2015 Afcon qualifiers) and several other match fixing cases in the country but investigations have rarely been conclusive, thus making it very difficult for courts to prosecute any culprits.
This story first appeared on the Daily Monitor Website.