Football federation falling short of its own rhetoric

Revelations that the Football Federation of Samoa did not report a significant case of alleged misappropriation reflects poorly on Samoa’s peak football body - but also on us all. 

The front page of Tuesday's edition revealed the F.F.S. detected but did not disclose the alleged misappropriation of funds by a staff member partly out of concerns for its public image (“Football Federation kept alleged $200,000 misappropriation internal”).

These revelations are a national disappointment. The federation flies the Samoan flag on the international stage for the world’s most popular sport and deals with major international organisations.

That makes its obligations far beyond its own image and interests; ultimately they are owed to the people of Samoa. 

The actions of the organisation’s Executive Committee, and its President, Papalii Samuel L. Petaia, in deciding to handle the matter without contacting Police falls well short of these standards.  

The F.F.S. represents Samoa directly in its dealings with regional and international bodies who are benefactors for the sport’s development in Samoa, such as the Oceania Football Confederation and the game’s international governing body F.I.F.A. (the Fédération Internationale de Football Association). 

Without support from either, the development of grassroots players, domestic clubs, and competitions and, ultimately, the national team, would be set setback considerably. 

In October the federation was trumpeting the support from the international governing body in the form of a F.I.F.A. grant worth USD$350,000.

That money was dedicated to paying for fundamental equipment for young players of the game, to be distributed to dozens of clubs across Upolu and, later, Savai’i.

The F.F.S. quoted its President, Papali’i Samuel Leslie Petaia, as saying he hoped that grant would be the first of many. 

But the President's handling of the misappropriation does not inspire confidence in us - and nor, we might expect, should it for the organisation's international partners and benefactors. 

"This is one of the saddest things to have happened in the history of the F.F.S. given the enormity of the amount involved,” the minutes of a meeting of the Federation convened to deal specifically with the matter of the misappropriation read.

“Papalii informed the club that this meeting was called specifically to discuss the issue of Faith [Ameto] misappropriating F.F.S. funds starting from 2018. The total misappropriated amount was $210,017.25.

“According to Papali’i, if this is treated as a criminal case [F.F.S] will not recover our funds. We also have to think about the image of the Federation and the game if we pursue the matter with the Police and the Courts.”

Organisations that represent Samoa overseas should reflect the values that we want to project to the world; transparency is chief among them. 

The decision is all the more disappointing because it contradicts the recent rhetoric of the current executive of the F.F.S. about changing the organisation’s culture and promoting accountability. 

In January the federation's then newly appointed Chief Executive Officer, Seve Dr. Folototo Seve, said that only once the F.F.S.’ culture of administration improved so too would the fortunes of the national team. 

“Before we even get to that we need to improve our current administration and processes,” he said at a press conference. 

“It all starts in-house with the systems and administration.

“Ensuring that there are policies in place, all F.F.S. assets are properly accounted for as well as addressing audit issues are some of my priorities at this point in time.”

Seve tendered his resignation earlier this month, two years short of the expiration of his contract. 

Why the trained accountant and business academic left is not known. 

But the issues uncovered by this newspaper suggest that the F.F.S. fell short of those lofty goals he outlined.

It is difficult to place faith in any organisation that does not transparently declare the detection of irregularities in its finances, or which declines to pursue remedies publicly and through the courts rather than by way of internally brokered deals. 

Papalii’s reaction to the story being uncovered also suggests the F.F.S.' President is not living up to his own rhetoric. 

When this newspaper questioned him about the misappropriation matter, his suggestion that it was this newspaper that owed an explanation was highly revealing.

“If you are brave, transparent, and fair enough as a responsible journalist, identify your sources and tell them to come and speak directly to me or you all come together for me to enlighten you all on the birth of Christ our saviour,” said.

“Rest assured this is all part of the ‘good governance’ reforms we are rolling out.”

We part ways with Papalii here on who owes whom an explanation.

The definition of good governance and reforms being touted by the President here is also, in our estimation, questionable.

It was only last year that the F.F.S. chose to bring the full force of the law upon its former President and C.E.O. over the purchase and use of vehicles.

Charges against the officials were ultimately withdrawn in July by the Supreme Court upon the request of the Attorney-General.

One of the pillars of good governance is consistency and abiding by rules not the personal decisions of people in power.

We believe that the disjuncture between the treatment meted out to his predecessor and the organisation’s former C.E.O. is just one of the many explanations that Papali’i owes the public about the F.F.S.’ behaviour. 

Sport, after all, is bigger than on-field contests. It can bring together cultures, cement international relationships and shape a country’s international image.

In the case of football in Samoa we do not need to look far for an example of how exemplary administration can lift a nation's reputation.

Former Samoan player Sarai Bareman was this month named one of the 11 most influential women in soccer in 2020 by the London-based magazine Sportspro.

Ms. Bareman, who made her mark as a reforming F.F.S. Chief Executive Officer has gone onto develop ethical standards at F.I.F.A. and has been credited with leading the international body's promotion of women’s football, culminating in the highly successful 2019 women’s World Cup. 

She presents a high-watermark for how integrity in sport off the field can be a force for burnishing Samoa's national reputation.

But until it rises to meet, at the very least, the standards of its own rhetoric about good governance, we cannot say the same about the F.F.S. 

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