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European football scandal has lessons for Asia

Publication Date : 10-02-2013

 

The recent international probe into alleged match-fixing via a Singapore-based betting cartel must be pursued to the end to preserve the integrity of football, which is the most popular sport in the world.

Europol last week unveiled a five-country probe that has identified 380 matches suspected to have been targeted by the betting cartel, whose alleged activities involved players, referees and officials across the world at all levels of the game.

The probe is the biggest investigation ever into suspected match-fixing, affecting the sport's perceived integrity and reputation. It also affects Singapore's reputation as one of the cleaner places to do business in the world.

Now that Singaporean authorities are cooperating with Europol to investigate the case, sport fans and the public are hoping that the investigation will expose the process by which the illegal cartel fixed matches and who was behind it, in order to prevent the practice from happening again.

Match-rigging obviously affects the performance of the players, who should instead be inspiring spectators and inspiring athletes alike. The quality of the game at the top levels should demonstrate to members of the public how they can rise beyond their limits and achieve excellence. The victory and rewards should be the result of hard work and patience.

Football scandals like the one involved in these fresh allegations can tarnish the integrity of the sport. That's why investigators should leave no stone unturned in probing the scandal, to bring the truth to the general public.

It was revealed that the criminal network fixed hundreds of matches, including at top tournaments such as the Champions League and World Cup qualifiers. The revelations come after Interpol last month warned that global football corruption was helping to fuel the criminal underworld's domination of prostitution, drug-trafficking and gun-running, and emerged in the wake of several high-profile scandals, according to Channel News Asia.

The international nature of match-fixing was highlighted by the case involving Singapore businessman Wilson Raj Perumal, who was suspected of rigging games in several countries and was jailed in Finland in 2011. He was reportedly involved in the national team of Zimbabwe, which was playing an Asian tournament. He was arrested in 2011 and received a two-year prison sentence for having rigged Finnish Championship matches. His arrest shed light on a network of corruption involving many people involved in international games.

In Thailand, although football gambling is still illegal, the football gambling activities are widespread, involving street bookmakers and international websites.

There have been many allegations of match-fixing in Thailand. The results of some matches have met with the disapproval of the spectators. But these allegations have never been proven. The authorities involved have never vigorously pursued the cases to the end. Most cases end with players taking an oath before the Royal Temple of the Emerald Buddha, before the doubtful eyes of some football fans.

Thailand is developing its own local premier league, and the international scandal should serve as a lesson for local leagues. One of the reasons the Asian betting cartel was trying to rig European football matches is because of the lower popularity of the local leagues. But their popularity could increase with a quality game in which players are determined to show their excellence to the fans.

On the other hand, sponsors will not want to back a league if games are perceived to be fraudulent. The fans would lose their trust in their beloved teams and players if they suspect their performances. Transparency in the game, therefore, is essential to keep the fan base.

It would be unfortunate if a game that is supposed to inspire people - especially youngsters who tend to look up to the players as their icons - turned out to involve massive fraud, cross-border corruption and transnational crime.

 

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