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Under fire Sharuko says ‘my conscience is clear’

By Robson Sharuko

So, finally, after spending 20 years writing about others, I got my wake-up call yesterday of how it feels to go through paragraphs of a lengthy article in which your name is being dragged through the mud in a national newspaper.

Robson Sharuko
Robson Sharuko

The final Asiagate report, published by The Herald yesterday, contained damaging material that dished a painful reading menu both for me and all the readers who have always placed their trust on the journalist that is in my huge frame.

There was speculation, across the capital yesterday, that such damaging material could only have been published in my absence but I have to make it clear that I was on shift on Monday, throughout the day, and helped in the production of the stories.

In fact, I personally reproduced the submissions by Ernest “Mapepa’ Sibanda, journalist Hope Chizuzu and the one by Masvingo United coach Luke Masomere that dragged me right into the Asiagate scam.

There is a misconception that journalists are superhumans who operate on their own planet, different from other earthly humans, and therefore cannot be subjected either to the scrutiny or the criticism that has followed the publication of the Asiagate report.

Only last Friday, we saw the former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson being arrested by police in England, for his alleged part in the phone-hacking scandal that has brought down Britain’s biggest selling newspaper.

Now, this is not just an ordinary journalist, but a man who used to be the communications chief for the British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Yes, I’m a man who has a public profile, thanks to the job that I have done in the past 20 years, but that doesn’t make me immune to the kind of criticism and analysis that others are subjected to because, away from this office, I am just another Zimbabwean.

They don’t sell me Castle Lite, at Jazz 105, for half its price of US$2.50 a pint, simply because I am Robson Sharuko, but I have to pay the normal price, all the time, because I am just another of their regular clients.

The other day my daughter Mimi suddenly fell sick, and I had to rush her to hospital, and they didn’t let me jump the queue, simply because I was that guy from the newspaper. Because in that real world, I am just another Zimbabwean.

To the average reader, who went through the reports we published yesterday, especially the submission presented by Masomere, the picture that was painted of me was one of a very corrupt journalist who was ready to sell the soul of his nation, for 30 pieces of silver during tours to Asia.

Masomere claims, in the report presented by the Zifa investigating committee as a record of their interview with him, that I introduced him to match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal in Vietnam and I used to be so excited, every time this fellow came around, because I appeared to know money was coming.

He also claims we used to chat in my hotel room, during that tour, where I told him that I had benefitted immensely from the tours to Asia and completed building my house and bought a car.

That was in 2007 and records will show that I didn’t own a house then, let alone a stand, anywhere in Zimbabwe and that I stayed at rented premises in Chitungwiza was testimony to that.

I will always treasure the good relationship I had with my landlord Lucky Gundani at Number 15242 in New Zengeza 4.

The Nissan double cab, 2.4i petrol I used to drive then was a Zimpapers’ car, given to me as my facility vehicle two years earlier, and which eventually became mine, through the company’s motor vehicle scheme, in 2009.

I will give Masomere the benefit of the doubt, although I would have been more comfortable, seeing his written submission, rather than one that was taken down for him in an oral interview without a recorder, because I have already seen how my submission was also not a true reflection of what I said.

For example, where I opened my interview with the Zifa investigating committee, advising them that they should have written a letter to my Editor-In-Chief, requesting for the interview, instead of the Chief Executive Officer, what is recorded in the report is that I demanded that they write to me.

Certainly there is a big difference between the Editor-In-Chief and a mere Sports Editor. The problem is that, if such irregularities can be picked up, what more could have been recorded wrongly.

If, as we report elsewhere today, Masomere was wrong to tell the committee that former Five-A side-Soccer League secretary-general, Steve Nyoka, travelled as the Head of Delegation to Vietnam, something that he mentions, not once but three times, then how credible was his other evidence as presented by the committee?

I mean, if you can’t tell the identity of your own HOD, and you keep dragging in a man who has never travelled to Asia simply because he was your HOD when you were Dynamos coach during a Confederation Cup trip to Ghana in 2004, chances are you might get most of your facts wrong.

In journalism we have a saying that a single sourced story is a source of trouble and my feeling is that the committee, if they were not driven by other agendas, should have asked other players to get more about what happened in Vietnam. When we begin dragging Brazil, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo and the great Ronaldo, including Masomere’s claims that he was shown a video that shows the Asian match-fixers paying him so that he feigns injury just before the 1998 World Cup final against France, I think we are pushing it a bit too far.

Assuming every submission that is presented becomes the root for prosecution, as Masomere’s case comes out here, then maybe Fungai Chihuri should have recused himself from the committee once Hope Chizuzu, as contained in the report, told them he benefited financially from Asiagate.

I didn’t write that, I only read it in the report.

Simply because the committee reported that Chizuzu told them Gladmore Muzambi, Nelson Matongorere and Jonathan Mashingaidze also benefited from the scam, as contained in their report, doesn’t automatically suggest that they should be listed as beneficiaries and investigated, does it? The big point is whether I fixed a match or matches or aided the process of fixing a match or matches.

That could have been picked from interviews with players, telling the committee that I told them to lose by such a scoreline, or coaches saying I gave them similar instructions and, given that I was on three trips, two out of three coaches would have represented a fair investigation. It’s certainly one thing covering a tournament or a team’s tour and it’s another thing picking out the complicated world in which sophisticated match-fixers work and I told the panel that I wasn’t the only one, who might have failed to pick it, because these were games covered by the local media and international agencies. I said the fact that it took two years for the police in Italy, thanks to the interceptions of phone communications that established a network of team managers and referees who conspired to fix matches in Serie A and Serie B in the 2004/2005 season, showed the complexity of the match-fixing networks.

When you consider that Italy has a huge media landscape, complete with daily newspapers and television networks devoted to sport only, and the Calciopoli – which featured Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina – happened under their noses, then it explains the complexity of the task of detecting match-fixing.

Yes, I am open to criticism that I should have picked whatever was happening earlier but if you just imagine that the entire Turkish sports media, as big as it is, did not detect that there was something going on with Fenerbahce’s games last season, until they won the championship, then you can understand the complexity of the task.

Now, after they had paraded the trophy, did we hear that the club fixed games to win the championship and the team’s president Aziz Yildrium was arrested at the weekend.

Certainly, I haven’t had a chorus of voices for the entire Turkish sports media to resign, because they didn’t pick up this scandal early, and neither did the Italian football writers retire because they had missed Calciopoli when it happened.

I told Ndumiso Gumede, Benedict Moyo and Chihuri, during an interview at Cresta Jameson in March, that they were doing a good job and they needed all the support to get to the root of the problem. I was as open, and as co-operative, as I could best possibly be and I treated all the men, even on the occasions when I detected that there was a coldness to me that appeared to suggest they had long made up their minds, with the respect they deserved. I told them I brought a couple of pictures from Vietnam, which were published in the local media, and I felt that certainly wasn’t the work of a match-fixing agent who wanted everything wrapped in secrecy.

But, in response to my contribution and co-operation, I got a place on the hyperactive group of people involved in Asiagate, with 14 matches under my belt, which means I only missed one game.

I FIND IT DIFFICULT TO SEE ANY OTHER REASON, SAVE FOR A FIERCE AGENDA ON THE PART OF THE INVESTIGATING COMMITTEE TO IMPLICATE ME, THAT THEY WOULD NOT ONLY ADD SIX GHOST GAMES TO WHAT I COVERED BUT ALSO HAD THE AUDACITY TO SAY I TRAVELLED TO COUNTRIES I NEVER WENT.

Even after I made it clear to the committee that I covered FOUR games at the Merdeka Cup, THREE games at the Agribank Cup in Vietnam, in 2007, and ONE game in Oman in 2008, THEY STILL WENT ON AND GAVE ME TRIPS TO CHINA, JORDAN, BAHRAIN, YEMEN AND ALL THE OTHER COUNTRIES, WHERE I NEVER WENT.

Why they did that, can only be open to speculation, both from you and me and it certainly can’t be a mistake because in the main report you can see my name included that I went to Jordan and all the other places.

Assuming the investigating committee was right to say that anyone who travelled was a suspect, as their table appears to suggest, why then does it not reflect that during the Merdeka Cup there were two journalists (four appearances each), Josh Munthali (ZBC) and myself? Is it a coincidence that my colleague’s name is just mentioned in passing, and he was never called for an interview, while there are acres of space devoted on Robson Sharuko?

Is it a classic case that only Sharuko is the one good enough to see all the evil, hear all the evil and feel all the evil, while his journalism colleague, on the same tour, cannot be expected to fish out all this malpractice?

There should be a separation of issues, from our battles over who should be the national coach, and what was happening during the period of their investigations because, if you are guided by emotions that Sharuko was too critical of Madinda and Tom Saintfiet, and pushed for Norman, then there are chances of losing the plot.

I owe it to the readership of this newspaper, which has seen me grow from that fresh-faced guy who arrived straight from journalism school at the turn of the ’90s and rose to be a voice they could trust, and criticise, to maintain a certain degree of professionalism.

Even as the hyenas smell the blood, and gather from all directions for the feast of the year, I remain incredibly calm, knowing that I will be helped by the truth, which sadly appears a scarce commodity in what I have been reading about me. As they say, it’s not the times you fall that matter, but how many times you can rise.

I found myself trying to sign off with my Chicharitoooo signature tune but realised this is not the time to laugh and smile.

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