The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Mugavazi Claims Innocence

SUSPENDED Zifa board member, Solomon Mugavazi, insists he is innocent but has ruled out appealing against the ban imposed on him, over the Asiagate saga, arguing that it would be hypocritical to fight a process he actually started when initiating a probe into match-fixing three years ago.

The Zifa Northern Region chairman and Monomotapa director, who insists he is clean, was slapped with a five-year ban for his club's alleged involvement in match-fixing in Malaysia in 2009 where the Premiership side masqueraded as the Warriors on that tour.

Although he initiated the probe into allegations of match-fixing, and even engaged the police on the matter after his team's trip to Tunisia for a Champions League assignment, the same year, Mugavazi still found himself being slapped with severe sanctions by his fellow board members over the Asiagate scam.

Mugavazi was then serving under the Wellington Nyatanga leadership when he tried to get Zifa to dig deeper into allegations of match-fixing but claimed his club had found no support from the association.

He also sat on the four-member committee led by former Zifa treasurer Gladmore Muzambi which tried to investigate allegations of match-fixing and why the national teams had been travelling to some Asian countries without clearance from the Sport and Recreation Commission.

There had been hope, within the small but closely-knit Monoz family, that their director would be spared of the Zifa sanctions.

A number of the Zifa board's critics also found it ironic that Mugavazi was handed a lengthy ban, in line with the Justice Ebrahim recommendations, while those that had been found guilty such TP Mazembe forward Darryl Nyandoro (life ban), Ernest Sibanda and Joey Antipas (five years each) had their recommended sanctions downgraded and suspended.

The critics believe that although the brave fight against match-fixing was highly commendable, some of the final pronouncements of punishments by the Zifa board last month seemed to have been influenced by those seeking to settle personal scores.

Despite recommending a five-year ban on him, the Ebrahim committee also acknowledged that Mugavazi's efforts had helped them a lot in their investigations and for trying to uplift the standards of the game in Zimbabwe through his club.

But Mugavazi, who normally shies away from the public glare and "rarely rocks the boat", spoke out for the first time since his suspension from the Zifa board last year to pave way for the Ndumiso Gumede probe team, and maintained that he is innocent and had actually advocated in the last three years for a full blown match-fixing probe to be effected.

In a thinly veiled attack on the sentence imposed on him, Mugavazi told the Zifa leadership that he would not use the special appeals committee to try and clear his name as he felt he was innocent and was also still bound by the board's resolutions "because I am part of the board".

Mugavazi has since written to Zifa president Cuthbert Dube and the association's chief executive, Jonathan Mashingaidze, and also copied the letter to Fifa, Caf, Cosafa and the Sport and Recreation Commission.

The Monoz director also applauded Zifa for closing the chapter on the long-dragging Asiagate saga and urged the board to now shift much of their energies to the key developmental assignments that had been pushed into the shade by the match-fixing probe.

Zifa president Dube has also maintained that the association needed to focus on a new beginning in the aftermath of the Asiagate scandal.

In his letter, which was also copied to fellow Zifa board members, Mugavazi reckoned that his colleagues should have been "more lenient in the sanctions" they imposed on the players.

It is Mugavazi's contention that some of the players were either too young, or too naïve, to understand that the matches they were being called up for were tainted but the Monoz boss insisted he would respect and support the Zifa board's decisions.

"I am in receipt of the Zifa president's letter and have noted the contents. I commend the Zifa board for bringing this matter to a conclusion and, hopefully, we can now focus on improving football in Zimbabwe," Mugazazi wrote.

"I have been part of the Zifa boards that instituted the enquiries on these misdemeanours and I am not appealing against the board's decision as I have been supporting you throughout.

"I have played my part in developing football and have no regrets. For the record, I would like to say at club level we took the unprecedented move, and probably the only one at the time, to report cases of suspicious conduct at one of our Caf Champions League matches.

"However, I feel the punishment meted on the players is harsh as they could been victims of manipulation by the then Zifa management considering that these players, on the face of it, felt honoured to be called up for national duty.

"This is the decision the board has taken and we have to support it."

Zifa's ban on Mugavazi has also thrown into doubt Monomotapa's long-term future given that the businessman is the club's principal sponsor.

Monoz have already spurned the offer to play in the Caf Confederation Cup citing lack of funding to undertake the cohstly African Safari.

The Mbada Diamonds Cup runners-up had also been hoping that they would get a US$150 000 from the sponsors.

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