The History of South African Football - Part 4

Memba Ben By Memba Ben, 5th Jul 2018 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Sports>Football (Soccer)

The fourth part in a series looking back at the development of football in South Africa with the focus on why FIFA (and more specifically Sir Stanley Rous) chose to not expel FASA from FIFA despite it breaking anti - discriminatory laws and the resulting fallout from it.

FIFA Playing the Game

By all accounts, Sir Stanley Ford Rous was a rigid personality.

The sixth FIFA President started his career as a teacher and played football at an amateur level but was forced to retire after breaking his wrist. Despite retiring, he continued to follow the game and developed an interest in refereeing. He went on to qualify as one and ended up officiating at the highest levels of the game.

Sir Stanley Rous was a huge stickler and an agent of order. Having reffed at the highest levels, Sir Stanley got the opportunity to interact with many players, coaches and referees and he found that not all of them actually understood the rules of the game so he took it upon himself to rewrite them in a clear, concise manner. This document became known as the Laws of the Game, the very rules that define what football is.

Another thing that came out of Sir Stanley’s administration was the ground-breaking Diagonal System of Control (DSC), the refereeing practice where depending on the position of the assistant referees, the match referee would diagonally across. This was done so that there would be as many eyes on the action as possible in order for the referee to make a correct judgment.

But what does all that have to do with Sir Stanley and FIFAs stance on South Africa?

From the pages of David Conn’s fantastic book "The Fall of the House of FIFA":

In modern times, Rous is remembered for his stance on the whites-only Football Association of South Africa (FASA), standing firm against the boycotting of the apartheid country demanded from the early 1960s by the growing number of post-colonial, independent black African nations which were members of FIFA. Rous gave the impression of being instinctively sympathetic to apartheid and hostile to African football development, and the votes against him by some African football associations made the crucial difference to Havelange winning the 1974 election. Rous himself resented that suggestion, and seems to have been genuinely bewildered by it, and he was aggrieved at the loss of so many African votes in the election.

Rous maintained that his view on South Africa was consistent with a principle he repeatedly restated, that sport itself should not indulge in politics. He argued that if a country was internationally recognised, FIFA should accept its football association and not set itself up as a judge of its politics or social conditions. That was, for example, the basis of his backing the readmission of German FAs to FIFA after the war, which was opposed by members of some countries which had particularly suffered under the terror of the Nazis. ‘That was successfully achieved in 1950,’ Rous wrote, ‘and what a major contribution Germany has since made to international football.’

But his stance on embracing FASA within FIFA was never accepted by most African countries’ FAs. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) had banned FASA for refusing to send a racially mixed team to the first African Cup of Nations, the year of CAF’s formation, in 1957. After FASA were suspended in 1961, Rous decided to conduct a fact-finding commission in South Africa in January 1963, taking with him a white USA representative, Jimmy McGuire. They concluded that ‘notwithstanding the Government’s policy of separate development, FASA was not itself practicing racial discrimination’. He based this on arguing that FASA was only following its government’s policies, which it was not entitled to defy, and that it was allowing associations representing football played by other racial groups to affiliate: the Bantu, Indian and ‘Coloured’ associations. He argued that FASA was working towards integration despite apartheid, which he said he always ‘disliked’.

This was a very long way from good enough for the African FAs and a majority of the countries populating FIFA. At the Tokyo congress the following year, FASA were suspended again, for twelve years, until the 1976 congress in Montreal, when the FA of the still-apartheid country was expelled. Some African FAs wrote to Rous accusing him of condoning apartheid, and then, furious at the lack of places available for African countries at the 1966 World Cup, CAF organised a boycott of the tournament. Rous’ insistence on a fine separation between sport and politics, and perhaps his cultural perspective as a product of colonial Britain, seems to have led him to underestimate, and not himself feel, the visceral repulsion and opposition of the black Africans to apartheid.

That very insistence on following procedure alienated him from others and subsequently led to his removal as FIFA President:

In 1966, the year the detailed plans Rous left at the FA for the World Cup in England came to delirious fruition for the home country; he was, at FIFA, propounding a new system of making financial grants to African and other developing football countries. Rous believed in this initiative; he travelled the world to document the need for FIFA to help financially with development, and he worked hard to persuade the European-dominated executive committee to endorse the policy, and the finance committee to release 500,000 CHF to fund it. The aims were to provide direct financial support to confederations serving developing countries, in order to employ a full-time secretary, pay for and encourage coaching courses and conferences, make technical films, help with the administrative and equipment costs of improving courses, and with the cost of tournaments. Havelange, when he challenged Rous, promised to fund more development programmes, and expand the number of countries playing in the World Cup from sixteen to twenty-four, to open it up to more developing countries, which has created the perception that Rous was against both.

Guy Oliver has found in the archives that this standard view of Rous is unfair. In fact, Rous circulated proposals as early as July 1970 asking for the confederations’ views on expanding the World Cup to twenty-four, or thirty-two teams, as it subsequently would be. Expansion to thirty-two, he proposed, would allow four countries from Africa, four from Oceania and Asia, and four from Central and North America, alongside, on merit, thirteen from Europe, five from South America, plus the host country and holders. He was suggesting this could happen as soon as the forthcoming 1974 World Cup in West Germany. Rous received a virulently negative response from UEFA, always jealous of ceding European control and dominance of international football, and the proposal was blocked. The African countries still did not have a single guaranteed place at that World Cup, having to go through a play-off with the Asian Football Confederation qualifier to make it to the tournament. Havelange, ultimately having won the election casting himself as the patron of international development, was then able to push the proposal through given his mandate, expanding the World Cup from sixteen to twenty-four countries’ teams for the 1982 tournament in Spain.

Rous, when facing the rival candidacy of Havelange, declined to actively electioneer, issuing only a modest pamphlet saying he would stand on his record, which he believed was self-evident: thirteen years of achievements, development and admirable progress. Given the stories, then and since, that Havelange was dispensing cash and promises to win votes, Rous’ final statement in what passed for his manifesto looks a little barbed: ‘I can offer no special inducements to obtain support in my re-election, nor have I canvassed for votes except through this communication. I prefer to let the record speak for itself.’ As he acknowledged himself, it was not enough. In his memoir, Rous had reined in the bitterness he felt and had expressed in the immediate aftermath, but he still said: ‘The major disappointment for me was the African reaction. They had 38 votes to Europe’s 33 and their influence was decisive in Havelange’s election. The hurtful part of this was that I had done so much for the development of football in Africa during my term as president. Indeed the Europeans who contribute the bulk of FIFA’s money often criticised me for giving too much aid to African associations.’

It has been written that the reason Havelange secured the votes was bribery. One report of the time talked of ‘small brown envelopes in large black hands’, a phrase which has not travelled well down the decades. It may have been true, like many other allegations of bribery which have infested FIFA elections and votes since that key regime change of 1974, but no cases have been provably documented. David Yallop, in his book How They Stole the Game, is repulsed by Havelange and alleges, based on research, that he was corrupt in business and at FIFA. But an example Havelange volunteered himself, about the 1974 election campaign, can also illuminate a different dimension of world football politics at play. Havelange told Yallop that a friend of his, who was a senior executive at the airline Lufthansa, had paid for the travel costs of six African delegates to go to the crucial congress in Frankfurt–and there they voted for Havelange. That looks like a suitable case of bribery, or at least a blatant conflict of interest, if FIFA had had any kind of structures to enforce an ethics code in 1974. But it also demonstrates that in 1974 significant numbers of African football associations had no money, not even enough for the air fare to send their president or another representative to a congress of FIFA as important as the one which would elect the president.

More recently, in April 2016, the Brazilian academic Luiz Guilherme Burlamaqui presented research at a Harvard University conference, ‘Soccer as a Global Phenomenon’, documenting further the poverty of the smaller football associations in Rous’ time. The FAs had a small fixed fee to pay for their membership of FIFA, in addition to the levy on international match income which FIFA still charged as its basic means of income to run itself. Burlamaqui found that in 1974 the fixed fee was only $150 annually, yet ‘for minor federations, such as Togo or Chad, the $150 was significant and they were constantly late’. In February 1974, Rous’ secretary general at FIFA, the long-serving Helmut Käser, wrote to CAF that as many as twenty-eight associations owed fees, and threatened to bar them from the congress if they did not pay up. Elias Zaccour, an agent and match promoter who was acting for Havelange’s campaign in Africa and the Middle East–a long-term FIFA lobbyist and fixer–said in a televised 2004 interview that he paid the dues of fourteen African national associations who could not afford the fees.

‘So I paid,’ he said. ‘And they were able to vote, otherwise “they” won’t vote. These 14 vote with us.’

If you missed the previous installments in the series:

Sources include:
The Fall of The House of FIFA - David Conn


History, Soccer, South Africa

Meet the author

author avatar Memba Ben
A fan's view on the business of football.

For more content, head to:

Share this page

moderator Peter B. Giblett moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


Add a comment
Can't login?