A match-fixing scandal in South Korean football shows little sign of slowing down with a growing number of players and teams implicated. The one consolation for the Korean Football Association and the K-League is that they are not alone. It is an international issue.
In June, 10 South Korean players were charged by prosecutors with accepting bribes to fix the result of games. In July, 46 more were indicted. The K-League quickly banned the initial 10 for life and more are set to face similar fates shortly. Government authorities are also determined to stamp out the practice.
Match-fixing is on the rise around the world. In 2011 alone, Germany, Italy, Malaysia and Turkey have also had to wrestle with the problem as criminal gangs take advantage of the anonymous nature of the Internet to tempt professional football players with money.
Rob Hughes, the chief football correspondent for the New York Times and International Herald Tribune, believes that authorities should be under no illusions as to the scale of the problem, which is an international one.
“FIFA and Interpol would claim detection is on the rise,” said Hughes. “My own view is that match-fixing is beyond control because football reacted far too late, Internet betting encourages it and, call me old fashioned, because the players today have less respect, decency or dare we use the word love of sport, all sport.”
In recent times, match-fixing in Asia has usually meant Southeast Asia or China. This is the first outbreak in the K-League since it became the continent’s first professional league in 1983.
Over the years, the competition has repeatedly cemented its reputation as one of the continent’s best, both on and off the field. That international image is in danger of being tarnished.
“My reaction (upon hearing of the scandal) was something like the left and right side of the brain,” added Hughes. “Surprise, because I thought the KFA ran a more watchful and controlled league than appears to be the case, but on the other side of the brain, why should Korea be any less corruptible than the world at large. The game is losing out everywhere to the business, and the very murky business of online gambling means there are no borders, even where a country has strict controls on betting.”
Turkey is the latest country to be hit with the disease.
Authorities have come down very quickly on suspected offenders.
Last week, 15 people were arrested, including Sekip Mosturoglu, the vice president of leading club Fenerbahce. In Germany, in May, two fixers were sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of manipulating more than 20 games in various European leagues.
In Asia, China and Malaysia are two of the countries that are most associated with match-fixing. The practice has seriously damaged the domestic competitions on a long-term basis and resulted in a struggle for sponsors and fans who became disillusioned with match-fixing, something that is almost as damaging in its perception as in reality.
“Sadly, match-fixing is rearing its ugly head in Malaysia,” said Haresh Deol, senior sports journalist at a leading Malaysian newspaper, the Malaysia Mail. “The crackdown in 1994, which saw more than 100 players and officials banned, has done little to scare the newer generation of players. I believe the FA of Malaysia can play a more pro-active role.
“The Royal Malaysian Police has set up a committee to monitor match-fixing while the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has booked two individuals for match-fixing recently. These are promising signs, but I stress more can be done through stricter monitoring of the players, officials and referees.”
The other biggest problem in Malaysia is that the respective teams are mismanaged, causing players and even referees to not receive their wages on time. Players have bills to pay and they opt for an easy way out through match-fixing.
Unlike Malaysia, China is finally looking like it has come to grips with corruption as Chen Zhongje, a football journalist with leading soccer Web site Goalhi.com, explained.
“In China, players, officials and even the president of the Chinese Football Association participated,” said Zhongje. “We found this problem long ago but didn’t do anything effective until last year when we finally launched a crackdown. Then the president of the CFA and some colleagues were arrested. It is difficult to completely stop it, but we can take precautions.”
So there is no shortage of lessons for the K-League and KFA to learn when it comes to dealing with the problem. As well as a tough line taken with anyone found guilty of fixing matches in the past, the focus is moving toward preventing a recurrence in the future through the education of players at all levels of the game. The KFA has formed a new committee that is charged with keeping the game clean.