Fifa 'failed to probe' Sri Lanka football corruption
Anti-graft campaigners in Sri Lanka have accused the world football governing body, Fifa, of not carrying out a proper investigation on allegations of serious corruption in Sri Lanka football.
Ravaya journalist Tiran Kumara Bangamaarachchi and Daily Mirror columnist Vijitha Fernando say the world body has failed to take any action though they have been reporting serious corruption in the game for years.
Denying the accusations, Fifa says it is monitoring all financial transactions of member bodies.
"All financial transactions are made to accounts belonging to the federations. This is checked by FIFA as well as independent auditors at both local and global level," Fifa media office told BBC Sinhala service, Sandeshaya.
The world governing body admitted that it provided over $7m for the development of football in Sri Lanka over the last decade but critics say much of it has been unaccounted for.
Fifa said it provided $250,000 a year for the last ten years for Sri Lanka and another $3.5m after the Asian tsunami in December 2004.
However, journalists and anti-corruption campaigners have been raising serious questions about whether the funds were indeed used for the benefit of the game.
Sri Lanka currently ranks at the bottom of the world football league.
168 in world ranking
"We were 160 in the rankings in 2007 before falling to 168," says Ravaya journalist Bangamaarachchi.
"Over the years, there is no visible development in football although money has been pouring in. If Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL) spent the money on players, we should have seen the emergence of talented players," he adds.
His comments were confirmed by the captain of the national football team, Rohana Ruvanthilleka.
"We do not have any professional players apart from Mohamed Kaif who occasionally plays in the Maldives," Ruvanthilleka told BBC Sinhala service.
While the island’s tiny neighbour Maldives also possess international football stadiums, Sri Lanka does not have a single international venue despite funds pouring in.
"We are paid a monthly salary by the football federation when we play. Even though we are members of the national football team we are not paid on off seasons," added Ruvanthilleka.
It is a complete different scenario from that of the national cricket team, where contracted players are paid huge salaries as well as additional payments when they are on a tour or playing at home.
National players 'jobless'
Cricket is the most popular and most funded sport in the island nation.
"When we do not have fixtures some of our players do other jobs or simply sit at home," says Sri Lanka's football captain.
Columnist and anti-corruption campaigner Vijitha Fernando is of the opinion that the world’s most popular game would have been more developed in the island had the international funding properly being utilised.
"The players are offered small fraction of money pouring in as allowances and facilities but the rest is unaccounted for," he says.
The campaigners also accuse Fifa president Sepp Blatter of not monitoring the utilisation of international funding to Sri Lanka football.
Mr Blatter arrived in Sri Lanka after tsunami and visited tsunami projects completed with Fifa funding.
Both critics say Mr Blatter did not conduct any field tour at all, and was accompanied by Manilal Fernando, who has effectively been controlling Sri Lanka's football for more than three decades, on a helicopter trip over the tsunami houses built by the government.
Fifa, however, says no tsunami projects were completed at the time when Mr Blatter visited Sri Lanka on 2 April 2006.
"FIFA had just completed the planning phase and our President's visit was to symbolically lay the first foundation stones for several football projects," it said.
"It is not the duty of the FIFA President to undertake evaluations or to check the construction of different projects. This is conducted by other staff members, such as FIFA's Development Officers."
Columnist Vijitha Fernando, a strong critic of Manilal Fernando, is not impressed.
He says many media outlets in Sri Lanka are reluctant to report the issue.
Manilal Fernando initially requested BBC Sandeshaya he be contacted later as he was in a meeting. He did not answer repeated calls within two weeks thereafter.
Manilal Fernando is currently a member of the Fifa's executive committee.
"Mr Manilal Fernando is the Chairman of the FFSL board and fulfilling this duty according to the FFSL rules," Fifa wrote in an email to BBC Sinhala service.
Mr Fernando is the "chairman of the management committee," not the chairman of the board, according to FFSL website.
Apart from the $3.5m provided by Fifa, the FFSL received huge funding from various other international donors after the tsunami but that funding is still unaccounted for, say both critics.
BBC Sandeshaya questioned Fifa whether it has any information on the tsunami reconstruction projects undertaken using Fifa funding.
"Since FIFA is the world football governing body, FIFA took care of re-building football infrastructure such as football pitches, stadiums and technical infrastructure for the Football Federation of Sri Lanka."
It also added that 18 football projects were financed by the tsunami fund and "built all over Sri Lanka," but the journalist says no significant football development project has ever been implemented in Sri Lanka.
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