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Right Man To Fix OFC?

The latest bout of activity at the Oceania Football Confederation has confounded regional followers of this popular sport. When U.S prosecutors launched a series of corruption cases against officials and
16 Apr 2018 10:16
Right Man To Fix OFC?
Fiji Football Association president Rajesh Patel has indicated that he is ready to clean-up OFC,.

The latest bout of activity at the Oceania Football Confederation has confounded regional followers of this popular sport.

When U.S prosecutors launched a series of corruption cases against officials and associates of FIFA in 2015, tremors were felt across the world.

Yet the smallest of world football governing body’s six confederations – the OFC – appeared far removed from a scandal that brought an end to former FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s 17-year reign.

Questions are now being raised after a FIFA audit, conducted through international accounting firm Price Water house Coopers, found potential for ‘fraud and bribery’ in a New Zealand construction project.

FIFA said they were unhappy with how OFC was being managed under former president David Chung, stopping short of accusing him of wrongdoing.

Former OFC president David Chung who resigned amidst audit concerns.

Former OFC president David Chung who resigned amidst audit concerns.

Two days before OFC executives were to meet to discuss FIFA’s findings on Sunday (April 8), Chung abruptly vacated his position.

According to FIFA’s annual report, OFC received US$16.8 million (FJ$34.10m) in funding in 2017. With no audited financial report published on OFC’s website since 2015, it is unclear how that money was used.

While it is rare, OFC is no stranger to financial misconduct allegations. Allegations of bribery against a top OFC official first surfaced in 2015.

Investigative journalist Andrew Jennings in his book, The Dirty Game: Uncovering the Scandal at FIFA, accused former president, late Charlie Dempsey of taking money to abstain from voting in a crucial vote on the host of the 2006 World Cup..

Several New Zealand football greats came to Dempsey’s defence, insisting that the allegations were ‘unfounded.’

He was also fiercely defended by OFC’s former General Secretary Tai Nicholas, who challenged Jennings to prove the allegations.

Nicholas himself also resigned in December, citing ‘personal reasons,’ months before he was put in the spotlight by FIFA’s audit findings.

According to the New York Times, FIFA’s audit found Mr Chung and Mr Nicholas had hired a company “with no experience” for the construction of OFC’s Home of Football without issuing a tender.

Fiji Football Association’s president Rajesh Patel cut a frustrated figure recently in a phone interview.  Mr Patel said the problem at OFC was that “decisions were only taken by the two of them (Chung and Nicholas).”

Mr Patel has expressed his desire to fill the vacant role of president and the scale of the task awaiting him cannot be understated.

Administratively, he has endorsed ambitious plans announced following Chung’s resignation to reform- including policy changes and transparency.

His admission that OFC lacked transparency is perhaps epitomised with the non-publication of the annual reports.

Another challenge facing him is fan engagement.

The OFC Champions League is the only notable tournament happening on a yearly basis that pits top-level Oceanic teams against each other for a major trophy.

This means followers of the sport here spend the bulk of their time watching domestic football, leaving OFC to conduct their affairs unquestioned.

Can – if elected – Patel bring an unprecedented era of change at OFC and overhaul the body completely – that includes publishing annual reports on time? Can he put to an end years of reclusive decision-making that no-one knows about until it is announced?

Whatever his potential election entail and Patel’s ability to bring change one thing is certain: It is time for a review at OFC.

. Edited by  Leone Cabenatabua

 

Feedback: sheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

 

 

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