Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pele's in Trouble

Three-time African Footballer of the Year Abedi Pele is in a world of trouble.

The Ghanian superstar and former European Cup winner was among officials and players from four clubs banned after two high scoring matches in the race for promotion to Ghana's premier league last month.

He’s appealing against a one-year suspension handed to him last week in this match fixing case.

Abedi Pele's club FC Nania won 31-0 over Okwawu United while rivals Great Mariners were 28-0 winners over Mighty Jets in results deemed by the Ghana Football Association to have been fixed. The association last week demoted all four clubs to Ghana's third division and fined them $20,000 each.

FC Nania, set up by the former Olympique Marseille player less than a decade ago, were seeking to reach the top flight of Ghana football for the first time.

Abedi Pele, who is an ambassador for South Africa's hosting of the 2010 World Cup finals, said he would seek to clear his name.

"I will go wherever I can to get justice as we have been banned on conjecture," Pele told BBC Sport.

"There was no evidence that before, during or after the match, the officials of Okwahu United and myself and/or any of my officials engaged in any form of discussion or even camaraderie - nor did any such thing ever take place," he said in a statement.

"What then did we do wrong?"

"The only possible accusation is that my team scored more goals.

"And if that is the case, my contention is that while the scoreline may raise eyebrows, it does not point to an irrefutable conclusion that the match was fixed.

"At the height of my career and even that of Maradona or the legendary Pele, it is very possible to record that score against a team featuring six players and a seventh in goal who is not a natural goalkeeper." (Nania’s opponents Okwawu played with seven men due to injuries occurring in the match.)

"Scorelines in football may be baffling but cannot be the basis for judging a match as fixed," the 1982 African Nations Cup winner emphasized.

He used last week's Champions League game when England's Manchester United destroyed AS Roma of Italy 7-1 to explain his point.

"The recent score between Manchester United and Roma could have recorded a cricket score if Roma had been reduced to seven men.”

*Scandal & corruption seem to be everywhere in the world of African football. It's too early to say for sure if Pele was involved in these shenanigans. If he was, he deserves to stay away from the game for a very long time. Match-fixing hits at the integrity of the game, the pureness of it. Once that's gone, what's left? A farce, like professional wrestling. A carnival.

FIFA would be right to step in here, study the issue and see what they can do to rid the African game of this nuisance. This needs to stop somewhere.

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