- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2011

HARARE, ZIMBABWE (AP) - FIFA’s Sepp Blatter met Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe for talks Monday after the head of world soccer arrived for a two-day visit to a country where the game is mired in a match-fixing controversy.

Blatter, who arrived earlier in Harare on a private jet, inspected training facilities that urgently need funding amid Zimbabwe’s troubled economy, and pledged $1 million over four years for soccer programs in the country. Another $500,000 will be provided to support training under the FIFA’s worldwide Goal Project.

“Football is more than kicking a ball,” Blatter said at a news conference. “I do not come to Africa to impose European football, I respect particularities and culture. Africa has more talent than Brazil but Africa’s talent is not yet developed.”

Blatter had been scheduled to accompany Mugabe to a women’s international match against regional neighbor Malawi, but officials said later that Mugabe did not attend because of a scheduling conflict.

Zimbabwe’s Mighty Warriors women’s team beat Malawi 8-2.

An advance party of four FIFA officials, including two match-fixing investigators, arrived Sunday.

Last year, Zimbabwe captain Method Mwanjali and four team mates admitted taking money to lose matches on a 2009 tour to Thailand and Malaysia. Zimbabwe lost 3-0 to Thailand and 6-0 to Syria and the players said they were paid between $500 and $1,500.

Zimbabwe Sports Minister David Coltart said Monday he hoped the FIFA team, which includes its head of security Chris Eaton, will recommend punishment for those found guilty.

“Hopefully FIFA will stick by the (Zimbabwe) government’s determination to deal with corruption,” Coltart told The Associated Press. “We expect them to endorse that there has been criminality and prosecution must follow.”

Mugabe told the state broadcaster on the steps of his official State House offices he was “honored” by Blatter’s visit.

“It is a great visit from the most powerful man in soccer. We hope a bit of his power remains with us,” said the 87-year-old Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

Blatter then met with children training on a soccer field outside Harare.

Coach Matthew Makuwerere said the sport lacked training facilities, adding that it had long stifled young people’s dreams of becoming professional players.

“We hope player development we have been wishing for will now be realized,” he said.

Eaton is scheduled to meet with Coltart, police commanders and the state Sports and Recreation Commission _ all of whom have assisted administrators in probing the match-fixing in 2009, known in local football circles as “Asiagate.”

Zimbabwe FA chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze said Eaton will study corruption reports that have been compiled by his organization. He also said the national body will be guided by FIFA on prosecution and any life bans on players and a member of the coaching team who accepted money.

Punishments for the Zimbabwe players could be part of a new wave of crackdowns on match-fixing in world soccer. Similar investigations are also under way in Finland, Italy, Greece and, at a lower level, in Malaysia and South Africa.

“We can’t intervene in the early stages of investigations but when offenders are found guilty they will be suspended or banned for life,” Blatter said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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