Asia steps up fight against football match-fixing

Europol on February 4, 2013 said that police had smashed a criminal network suspected of fixing 380 football matches, including in the Champions League and World Cup qualifiers

Asian football will take steps to clean up rampant match-fixing and repair its battered image when police and senior officials meet this week to discuss ways of fighting the problem.

Two weeks after revelations that hundreds of games worldwide were targeted by Asian-linked gangs, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and Interpol will co-host talks in Kuala Lumpur aimed at raising awareness and cooperation.

According to Europol, 380 suspicious games have been identified in Europe among nearly 700 worldwide, including Champions League ties and World Cup qualifiers, tying the problem to a criminal syndicate based in Singapore.

The announcement put a renewed focus on the problem of match-fixing which has long been documented in Asia and now appears to be increasing throughout the world, fuelled by the advent of lucrative online gambling.

But former AFC secretary-general Peter Velappan called the report "the tip of the iceberg", while Burkina Faso coach Paul Put, who was suspended over match-fixing claims, said the problem is bigger than football realises.

Last month, Interpol secretary-general Ronald Noble said match-fixing generates hundreds of billions of dollars each year, comparing the revenues to multinationals such as drinks giant Coca-Cola.

On Monday, indicating the scale of football corruption in Asia, China handed out a series of bans and heavy fines following investigations into its biggest ever match-fixing scandal, which left senior officials in jail.

Shanghai Shenhua, the former club of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, was stripped of its 2003 title and handed a points deduction for the coming season for its part in the controversy.

And in Thailand on Tuesday, The Nation newspaper reported allegations that November's FA Cup final between Buriram United and Army United was targeted by fixers.

Other scandals around the region include one that engulfed South Korea's K-League, one of Asia's most successful competitions, where corruption revelations in 2011 left dozens of players banned.

Malaysia, home to the AFC and neighbouring Singapore, has also suffered serious problems and the Asian body itself has been caught up in corruption claims after its ex-president, Mohamed bin Hammam, was accused of bribery.

Velappan, who was AFC secretary-general for 30 years until 2007, said football bodies were incapable of dealing with match-fixing on their own and needed help from police bodies and governments.

"Football Associations do not have the power or skill to deal with this. These are criminals and only governments and the police can handle them. But there is no political will," Velappan told AFP.

Velappan claimed rigged matches were "in the thousands" rather than hundreds, and said match-fixing is a "serious threat to football".

"The war against match-fixing, tracking down agents, must go right down to the roots. If not, Asian football will never improve if everything is fixed," Velappan said.

The two-day conference starts on Wednesday with keynote speakers including Interpol chief Noble.