Illegal Asian betting syndicates are swooping down on English football and the Premiership and other English leagues could be susceptible to match rigging, the bane of football the world over, a top investigative journalist warned at an international sports conference in England.
"In England we're beginning to see more and more fixing in the lower leagues. There is a network of Chinese gamblers all over the UK and they have been seen at youth level matches in Scotland," Canadian investigative journalist Declan Hill, author of the controversial book The Fix - Soccer and Organised Crime (see www.howtofixafootballmatch.com), stated at the Play the Game conference in Coventry on Monday.
Several countries worldwide in recent times have been plagued by match-fixing scandals -- Italy, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Poland, Bulgaria, Israel, Serbia, Croatia, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Vietnam etc., etc., -- and almost all tournaments including the top Euro football leagues, Champions League, international fixtures and even World Cup games have been scarred by the taint of it.
While English football, including the Premiership, which is hugely popular all over the world and also in India, has remained largely free of the curse, its past record has hardly been inspiring.
Match fixing was the scourge of the British game in the 1950s and 1960s and several players of top teams, including Manchester United, were either accused or convicted or confessed to fraternising with the "viper of bribery".
The curious case of Liverpool's famous goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar in the nineties is another case in point.
The fact that a couple of years ago a Premiership footballer, with a 50,000 pounds gambling debt, admitted to The Independent that he got himself deliberately red carded in a game to favour his bookmaker who agreed to write off the debt is another indicator that the cancer may be even more deep rooted in the English game than apparent.
Hill, who has investigated and documented football match-fixing scandals all over the world revealed that Asian (Chinese) bookies have been frequenting international youth level matches all over the world and "trying to get to the players early" so they can have them in the loop when they represent their countries at the senior level.
According to Hill, over the last 10 years games at the 1997 U-17 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur, 2004 Olympics in Athens, 2006 World Cup in Germany, 2007 international friendly between Ghana and Iran in Teheran were fixed. He said that then Ghanaian captain Stephen Appiah admitted to him that he took $20,000 from bookies for winning a game at the 2004 Olympics which he then distributed among his players. He also revealed that top Ghanaian football officials also confessed to Asian bookies stalking the team at various venues across the world, including the women's World Cup in China 2007 when Ghana were to lose by a five-goal margin to Norway.
Hill said the second biggest scandal in football after match-fixing was the attitude of the football federations, including FIFA, which are just not serious enough about tackling the menace.
"The illegal Asian gambling market is worth tens of billions of dollars but FIFA is just not interested in looking at the Asian illegal gambling market," he pointed out. He also added that one has to pay up to dial the FA anti-corruption hotline, something that has been apparently taken off the hook now.
Most international sports federations like basketball, cricket ext., have anti-corruption or security departments but football federations including FIFA have not yet put these structures in place, he regretted.