Fix­ing Foot­ball

Match-fix­ing is the scourge of mod­ern-day foot­ball. And his­tory, both past and re­cent, shows even Aus­tralian play­ers and Aussie leagues are vul­ner­a­ble to its evil...

Australian Four Four Two - - JUNE 2015 - WORDS JOHN DAVID­SON

Match fix­ers stunned the world when they in­fil­trated an Aus­tralian state league side. We find out how au­thor­i­ties have re­acted to stop any fu­ture re­peats.

IT CAME AS a sting­ing sur­prise, a huge shock to Aus­tralian sport­ing sen­si­bil­i­ties. In Septem­ber 2013, Vic­to­rian po­lice ar­rested a horde of play­ers from a lit­tle­known Turk­ish-her­itage foot­ball club in Mel­bourne’s south-east on the sus­pi­cion of match-fix­ing. Po­lice had un­cov­ered an in­tri­cate fix­ing ring that con­spired for the South­ern Stars to ma­nip­u­late scores in six games to en­sure huge gam­bling win­nings. Play­ers and the coach from the Vic­to­rian Pre­mier League out­fit were al­legedly paid to lose matches to reap up to $2 mil­lion in il­le­gal bet­ting prof­its. In the 2013 sea­son the South­ern Stars had played 21 games, los­ing 16 of them and drawing four. The news rocked Aus­tralian foot­ball to the core and made world­wide head­lines. A sports com­pe­ti­tion, in a na­tion that prides it­self on the play hard but play fair ethos, had been cor­rupted and in­fil­trated. But the shock in the scan­dal was not en­tirely jus­ti­fied. Foot­ball match-fix­ing has be­come a grow­ing prob­lem across the globe. Games have been fixed in leagues from Ro­ma­nia, Fin­land, the Czech Repub­lic, Greece, Turkey and Italy to China and Canada in re­cent years, to name just a few. The num­ber of in­ci­dents has risen and al­le­ga­tions have been made about Euro­pean Cham­pi­ons League and World Cup matches be­ing fixed. It’s naïve and ig­no­rant to think just be­cause of our ge­o­graph­i­cal iso­la­tion and our cul­tural make-up that Aus­tralian foot­ball would re­main to­tally un­af­fected by this plight. Au­thor and aca­demic De­clan Hill knows the fix­ing world bet­ter than most. Writer of The Fix: Or­gan­ised Crime and Soc­cer, Hill has been warn­ing Australia for more than five years that fix­ing would even­tu­ally hit our shores. In 2014 Hill said at a con­fer­ence that a “tsunami of cor­rup­tion” was go­ing to hit Aus­tralian

sport. “Most Asian sports are now a grave­yard of hopes, ideals and dreams,” he said at the time. “The match fix­ing linked to the Asian gam­bling net­works have de­stroyed most Asian sports. The sports fans of Asia, the gam­bling peo­ple, the fix­ers of Asia are now go­ing to turn their at­ten­tion to Australia.” Ac­cord­ing to Hill, Australia’s prox­im­ity to in­ter­na­tional fix­ers based in South-East Asia makes us a key tar­get. “You guys are in the same time zone ap­prox­i­mately as th­ese coun­tries are,” he tells Four­FourTwo. “Be­cause you are in the same time zone, your sports are watched rel­a­tively more than one would ex­pect. The A-League might not be the world’s best, but on some week­ends you’ll have more money bet on the Aus­tralian soc­cer league than you would on Barcelona. And it’s just be­cause of the time zone.” The fix­ing un­der­taken by those as­so­ci­ated with the South­ern Stars, now known as Din­g­ley Stars FC, was un­cov­ered by Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion Australia in con­junc­tion with sports bet­ting com­pany Spor­tradar. FFA re­layed the in­for­ma­tion of sus­pi­cious bet­ting ac­tiv­ity on Vic­to­rian Pre­mier League games to state po­lice and 10 in­di­vid­u­als were ar­rested. Th­ese in­cluded the South­ern Stars coach Zia Younan, a for­mer NSL player, whose job was to en­sure play­ers in­volved in the match fix­ing ring played so that they could ma­nip­u­late the score. English re­cruits Reiss Noel, Joel Woo­ley, David Obaze and Ni­cholas McKoy, who had all played in the Con­fer­ence South in Eng­land pre­vi­ously, were also charged. An­other four South­ern Stars play­ers ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of match fix­ing fled Australia be­fore the end of 2013 and have not come back. Ta­mas Nagy, Cris­tian Cris­tea, Ryan Hervel and Jiri Ka­bele left the coun­try af­ter the scan­dal broke and ap­pear to have re­turned to Europe. One of that quar­tet, striker Cris­tea, played for the Ro­ma­nian club FC Snagov that was sus­pected of match fix­ing in the 2010/11 sea­son. The four UK foot­ballers – Noel, Woo­ley, Obaze and McKoy - had been brought to Australia to play for the South­ern Stars by an English com­pany called Match World Sports. That com­pany has since been re­vealed as a front used by con­victed fix­ers Krishna San­jey Gane­shan and Wil­son Raj Peru­mal. Malaysian na­tional Se­garan ‘Gerry’ Subra­ma­niam was the lo­cal con­tact of the South­ern Stars crew and the man pulling the strings in Mel­bourne. The club it­self was un­aware of the fix and jumped at the chance to re­cruit the ex­pe­ri­enced English­men for free as a part of a pack­age deal. For the fi­nan­cially strug­gling South­ern Stars, it ini­tially seemed like a dream come true. Head coach Dean Hen­nessy had left the club at the end of the 2012 sea­son, af­ter lead­ing them to two pro­mo­tions in three years, cit­ing an in­abil­ity to com­pete. “When I was told the bud­get we could work to next year, I felt it would be nowhere near what we needed to be com­pet­i­tive,” he said at the time. Younan was ap­pointed af­ter promis­ing to bring in cheap play­ers from over­seas, pro­vide spon­sor­ship and coach, all for a small salary. The South­ern Stars com­mit­tee was sold… but it would be too good to be true. With the help of Gane­shan, no­to­ri­ous Sin­ga­porean match-fixer Peru­mal or­gan­ised

the South­ern Stars fix. In June last year Gane­shan was jailed for five years in the UK for con­spir­ing to fix foot­ball matches in Eng­land’s lower di­vi­sions. Ac­cord­ing to Nino Bucci, crime re­porter for The Age, Gane­sham was a key fig­ure in the Mel­bourne op­er­a­tion. “San­jey was far more in­volved than Gerry, as he was ba­si­cally the bloke sent out to set it all up. Gerry just took over when San­jey went to the UK.” Vic­to­rian Po­lice dis­cov­ered the ruse by bug­ging mo­bile phones, the club­house and even lis­ten­ing de­vices lo­cated on the pitch and the goal­posts. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion was a coup for the Po­lice’s Sport­ing In­tegrity In­tel­li­gence Unit (SIIC); a ded­i­cated unit set up in Fe­bru­ary 2013 to tackle cor­rup­tion in Aus­tralian sport. It con­sists of de­tec­tives and an­a­lysts, in­clud­ing a fi­nan­cial ex­pert. “The SIIU proac­tively and re­ac­tively in­ves­ti­gate cor­rup­tion in re­la­tion to sport bet­ting of­fences,” De­tec­tive Sergeant Kieran Mur­nane ex­plains. “In­tel­li­gence is re­ceived from a range of sources. In­tel­li­gence re­ceived is as­sessed by the SIIU as to whether a crim­i­nal of­fence has been com­mit­ted or is to be com­mit­ted and work col­lab­o­ra­tively with other crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion agen­cies.” The fall­out from the South­ern Stars case has been bru­tal. FFA and FIFA life bans have been handed out, along with fines and jail terms. The club was stripped of all points for the 2013 sea­son and key staff were forced to take manda­tory club man­age­ment and gov­er­nance cour­ses, re­port monthly to Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion Vic­to­ria last year and have all cur­rent and pro­posed com­mit­tee mem­bers ap­proved by the gov­ern­ing body. “In ad­di­tion to for­mal penal­ties, the club suf­fered a high price in terms of rep­u­ta­tional dam­age given the fail­ures of gov­er­nance and the very public fall-out which fol­lowed,” Peter Gove, FFV chief ex­ec­u­tive says. “The fact that some of the South­ern Stars’ play­ers and coach were charged and con­victed demon­strates that mea­sures are work­ing to de­tect il­le­gal bet­ting ac­tiv­ity.” The pos­i­tive of the ex­po­sure of this in­ci­dent of fix­ing has been the will­ing­ness of Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties to act. Hill says this kind of ac­tion from po­lice and sports bod­ies is not al­ways re­peated in other parts of the world with sim­i­lar cases. “I re­ally ad­mire this, you guys have rolled up your sleeves on this and said ‘Sorry mate, not on our con­ti­nent – we punch above our weight in sports and it’s not go­ing to hap­pen here’,” he adds. “You’ve led the world in preven­ta­tive mea­sures to this thing. This unit in Mel­bourne is ac­tu­ally a spe­cific ded­i­cated sports polic­ing unit, it’s un­prece­dented in the world. I think it’s ab­so­lutely ex­tra­or­di­nary. So if there’s less cor­rup­tion in Aus­tralian sport than in Euro­pean sport, then fair play to the Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties. They’ve lis­tened and they’ve ac­tu­ally taken ac­tion.”

HU­MAN COST

THE IM­PACT OF the stench of match-fix­ing is not just the loss of in­tegrity for foot­ball com­pe­ti­tions, or the fi­nan­cial cost, but also a strong hu­man one. Match-fix­ing can de­stroy lives and ca­reers. Ab­bas Saad knows this in­ti­mately. The for­mer Syd­ney Olympic and Syd­ney United striker is still re­cov­er­ing from be­ing caught up in a match-fix­ing in­ci­dent 20 years ago. In 1990 the Le­banon-born for­ward was on top of his game. Af­ter claim­ing the Joe Marston Medal in the NSL Grand Fi­nal, when his Syd­ney Olympic side beat Mar­coni Stal­lions 2-0, the Soc­ceroo moved to Asia to play in Malaysia. He was 23. Saad would be­come one of the big­gest stars in the Semi-Pro League over four sea­sons, help­ing win league and cup dou­bles for Jo­hor and Sin­ga­pore, and bag­ging a hat-trick in the 1994 Malaysian Cup fi­nal. He was feted in Sin­ga­pore and loved by fans. But in 1995 things turned sour for the striker. Saad was charged and con­victed of match­fix­ing by Sin­ga­porean po­lice. He was banned for life by FIFA and fined $48,200. Saad was con­nected to the in­ci­dent through his team­mate, Michael Vana, who fled the coun­try at the time and re­mains a fugi­tive. Vana was al­legedly bet­ting on matches and in­volved with a book­maker. Saad, who was ac­cused of scor­ing goals to fix re­sults, has al­ways main­tained his in­no­cence. “It was a big shock to me, it was a big shock to every­body,” the Aus­tralian says. “Even to­day I don’t know why they brought me into the whole pic­ture. You’re talk­ing about match­fix­ing, you’re talk­ing about cheat­ing and that’s some­thing that I’ve never ever, ever done, or would ever con­sider do­ing. It was the op­po­site; they said I was scor­ing goals. I said that’s my pro­fes­sion, I’m a striker.” “I gave my all, I gave my blood and sweat in ev­ery game I played in. You don’t win all th­ese things if you’re sit­ting back, and your team­mates don’t sup­port you 100%, and your

“You guys have re­ally rolled up your sleeves on this and said: ‘Sorry mate, not on our con­ti­nent’... It’s un­prece­dented in the world.”

Above Po­lice move in on fans fu­ri­ous at match-fix­ing wreck­ing games in China’s Su­per League

Above Ab­bas Saad in North­ern Spirit days

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