South Africa nerves unsettled amid World Cup bribe scandal

South African football fans - July 2010 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption South Africa was the first country in Africa to host the World Cup

As South Africa's football executives, and indeed its government, wait anxiously for more details about the FBI's claim that the 2010 Fifa World Cup vote was rigged, a steady leak of emails and letters appears to be doing little to calm nerves in the country.

Indeed at the weekend, in perhaps the most forceful and curious outburst yet, a former Safa boss, Molefi Oliphant, said he had felt "betrayed" by the current Safa president, Danny Jordaan.

On the face of it, the alleged betrayal seemed rather petty.

It related to the sequence in which a string of letters regarding South Africa's generous $10m (£6.5m) payment to support diaspora football in the Caribbean, were leaked to the media.

Mr Oliphant said he was "angry, shocked, and disappointed... and felt betrayed" that Mr Jordaan had failed to disclose that he had written a letter to Fifa about the donation before Mr Oliphant had done so.

Assuming that South Africa's behaviour has been entirely above reproach, it is not immediately obvious to me why it should matter so very much who wrote to whom first about the diaspora funding.

When I called Mr Oliphant for an explanation, he promised to answer only after "new developments" which he expected in the coming week.

The leaked correspondence - and no-one has yet claimed the letters are fake - makes it clear that South African officials, from former President Thabo Mbeki, to various ministers and football executives, were all involved in discussions with Fifa in Switzerland about the handling of the $10m.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Both Seep Blatter (R) and Fifa's secretary general Jerome Valcke (L) knew about the $10m payment

Significantly, Fifa's secretary general, Jerome Valcke, is either the recipient or the author of four messages - a fact that might appear to sit awkwardly beside the world football governing body's recent insistence that "neither the secretary general Jerome Valcke nor any other members of Fifa's senior management were involved in the initiation, approval and implementation of the ($10m payment)."

Fifa has since explained that Mr Valcke, and indeed Fifa chief Sepp Blatter, were indeed aware of the transfer, but not involved in its "initiation".

'Secretive' committee

Meanwhile, one South African source at the heart of the allegations, who continues strenuously to protest his innocence, conceded to me that "this could be the beginning of the end for Fifa. And maybe that's a good thing".

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South Africa paper trail

Another source, who played a significant role in the 2010 World Cup itself, told me he was not surprised by the allegations against South Africa, saying he found the local organising committee to be "very secretive... and the way they spent money is amazing.

"[The FBI allegations are] confirmation of the suspicions all of us had."

But he felt sure that Mr Mbeki would have been kept in the dark about any bribe and genuinely believed the $10m was going to the diaspora.

For now South Africa appears to retain its strongest card in this crisis - deniability.

Whatever former Fifa official Jack Warner, who denies any wrongdoing, and his colleagues in Trinidad did with the money, there is ample evidence - the leaked letters included - to show that South African officials appeared to believe they were making a legitimate donation.

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