By Justin Ong
Singapore has been identified as the epicentre of a sprawling worldwide football betting ring.
With operations implicating hundreds of matches across the globe and the crime syndicate’s link to Singapore, what do local football fans make of it all?
Some of those Yahoo! Singapore spoke to expressed their dismay at the revelations.
“What bothers me is that these far-reaching ill-effects, on something I love, originated so close to home,” said Zacharoy Dass, 25.
Yusuf Abdol Hamid bemoaned the potential consequences for the viewing of the sport.
“If there is match-fixing involved, it removes the drama and tension in football, because fans will now be suspicious of every dubious call by match officials, or a ridiculous player mistake, that ends up costing the game.”
He admitted that he will find it “hard to trust match results from now on.”
S-League follower Azmi Suhaimi, 27, was surprised at the syndicate’s ability to evade Singapore’s stringent laws. But his main worry lies with any potentially harmful impact on the S-League, “as it is already struggling to get fan interest, as well as Singapore football in general,” he said.
When quizzed on the likely repercussions for local football, veteran local football blogger Ko Po Hui, 37, said it would be premature to arrive at any conclusion. Ko was more concerned with how others would come to view Singapore in the wake of the scandal.
Over the years, squeaky-clean and sanitised Singapore has made for a strange, but consistent bedfellow with shadowy entities in football.
Back in 1994, Singapore was the first nation in the world to convict a FIFA referee for match-fixing. A year later, popular Malaysian League footballer Abbas Saad was charged with rigging matches.
Football betting was then legitimised in 1999, under strict control of the government. The only legal betting agency, Singapore Pools, runs a dense network in the country, with branches in nearly every housing estate to enable lawful gambling.
Yet this has done little to prevent a streak of involvement in both domestic and international match-fixing scandals, culminating in this week’s saga.
Reflecting on the issue, ex-footballer Craig Foster, who played for the Singapore Lions in 1991, perhaps summed it up best when he said: “Like chum in the water, cash attracts the sharks. In football there is money. Lots of it.”
So corruption in football endures. And its honest stakeholders, whether players or fans, continue to be, as Zacharoy puts it, “cheated of the authenticity of the experience that they believe they are a part of.” He is, undoubtedly, referring to an experience one would now be less inclined to describe as “The Beautiful Game”.