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...
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.”
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