FIFA’S decision to ban African football legend Kalusha Bwalya for two years, and slap him with a US$100 000 fine as part a crackdown on corruption in the game, has brought to fore the deep divisions that have been plaguing Zambian football and devouring the game’s soul.
Bwalya, the only Southern African star to be named the African Footballer of the Year in 1988, was handed a two-year ban from the game after the world football governing body ruled his acceptance of US$80 000 from disgraced former Qatari football strongman, Mohammed Bin Hammam, had violated ethics governing the game.
The former Zambian superstar, who also coached his national team and, as president of the Football Association of Zambia, led his nation to their triumph in the 2012 AFCON finals, insists he secured a loan from Bin Hammam, accused by FIFA of running a syndicate of corruption in world football, which Bwalya intended to pay back.
He has ordered his legal team to fight the conviction and overturn the ban.
Bin Hammam, a former FIFA vice-president and ex-boss of the Confederation of Asian Football who even challenged for the FIFA presidency, was banned for life from the game for his shenanigans.
Bwalya is the first African football leader to be banned in the crackdown which sources say is targeting, at least, 25 current and former bigwigs of the game on the continent.
The explosion of the case has divided Zambia and brought to the surface the cracks in the country’s national game with a huge constituency backing Bwalya in his battle to clear his name, while others have jumped onto the case to criticise him saying that beyond the image of a clean-cut image of an ultimate sporting ambassador, lies the soul of an individual allegedly driven by greed.
Ponga Liwewe, the son of Zambia’s legendary football commentator Dennis, threw the first vicious blow in a damning lengthy article he penned for South Africa’s Sunday newspaper, City Press, in which he attacked Kalusha for allegedly being a man who has a dark side in which greed is a big part of its DNA.
‘’To his legion of worshippers, he is known as ‘King Kalu.’ In Zambian football, his status is unchallenged as one of the top players in the country’s illustrious football history,’’ wrote Ponga who, until recently, was the FAZ secretary-general.
‘’On August 10, 2018, the King lost his crown. The Adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee released a press statement announcing a two-year ban and CHF100,000 fine for breaching FIFA’s code of ethics.
‘’It was a bitter blow to the man whose career has centred around nothing else but football from the time he first kicked a ball professionally for the Mufulira Wanderers team where he would go on to become a local hero.
‘’To understand how he got himself into this situation, it is necessary to go back to the beginning, to when his football journey began five decades ago in the dusty streets of the mining community of Mufulira in northern Zambia.
‘’After his move to Europe, he became more distant from his teammates in the national team and began to make demands on the team management and association that were at best questionable.
"He demanded a single room while all the other players paired. On, at least, one occasion his wife Erica joined him in the team camp while in preparation for a crucial match.
‘’Bwalya also insisted on receiving extra payment from the football association whenever he played for the national team for what he termed ‘loss of wages,’ even though the clubs he played for paid his salary when he was on national duty, as was the norm.
‘’At the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations, the Zambian team split apart over a dispute about bonuses when the Head of Delegation, Major Richard Kachingwe, inexplicably handed Bwalya $50,000 in cash for the players’ allowances.
‘’Bwalya informed the local players that there would only be a bonus for a win and nothing for a draw or loss. Having lost the first game and drawn the second, this meant that the players would receive no compensation at all.
‘’He decreed, however, that the players who had come from overseas teams would be paid allowances and proceeded to share the $50,000 between five players, taking the largest portion for himself and leaving out the rest of the 23-man squad who earned a pittance in the local game.’’
Ponga claimed Bwalya also campaigned against South African Football Association president, Danny Jordaan, and crippled his bid to become COSAFA president and a member of the CAF executive committee despite the later having brought him to play a part in the bid to bring the 2010 FIFA World Cup to the Rainbow Nation.
‘’Bwalya’s disdain for Jordaan intensified when his outspoken wife Emy Casaletti was asked to leave her marketing role at the 2010 World Cup Bid Committee,’’ wrote Ponga.
‘’It would only be in 2017 that Jordaan would get into the CAF committee on the crest of the wave that swept aside CAF President Issa Hayatou from office.
‘’After the successful World Cup bid that saw South Africa win the right to host the World Cup, Bwalya switched his attention to local football politics and was voted FAZ vice president in 2004.
‘’It was the beginning of an era that would see lack of accountability, factional fighting and downright incompetence in the running of Zambia’s football affairs.
‘’Football House became an arena of shenanigans and buffoonery. Worse still was the blatant misuse of football resources for a lavish lifestyle of first-class travel and endless hotel stays, all at the expense of the association.
‘’After the dizzy heights of playing football at the highest levels and becoming a household name in the African game, the road thereafter went downhill with one controversy after another.
‘’Today public opinion is divided about whether to still view him as a hero or now as a villain after his fall. It is yet another sad tale about how greed and corruption can eradicate a lifetime of work and achievement in an instant.’’
But those who are in support of Bwalya have been hitting back and saying it is ironic that Ponga could come up with such a scathing attack on the legend yet he was part of the FAZ administration whose executive committee members were said to share around K600 000 as allowances when the country hosted the COSAFA Under-20 Cup.
A further K805 000 was also allegedly paid to the eight FAZ executive committee members and Ponga when Zambia hosted the Africa Under-20 Cup of Nations last year.
And support for Kalusha has been massive with this response by one of those who responded to Ponga’s article capturing the common narrative in the responses.
‘’Leave Kalusha alone, none of you has even archieved anything worthwhile to make the country proud,’’ wrote Proud90. ‘’This Ponga himself, together with (FAZ boss Andrew) Kamanga, have been corruptly squandering FAZ finances for personal gain.
‘’Your writing smells of hatred and jealousy of what Kalusha has been able to achieve in his life. Your devilish motivation to try and tarnish the image of Kalusha will never work, in fact the South Africans should be able to see you are a worthless crap bent on destroying the livelihood of your fellow countrymen.
‘’It is wicked people like you that the sporting world must actually get rid of, all you are good at is destruction. Shame on you wasting time making this long write-up on Kalusha.’’