A-League must be on guard against match fixing
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FFA Chairman Frank Lowy confirmed an Australian is preferred to take over as Socceroos coach (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
The A-League is not immune to the issues raised by the Australian Crime Commission two days ago. But rather than drug use, it is the scourge of match-fixing that football in Australia is most susceptible to.
The ACC’s findings of widespread drug use and alleged corruption in Australian sport have come as a major shock to fans and administrators of all codes.
Systematic doping and the use of performance-enhancing substances doesn’t so much tarnish the image of a sport as it does trash its integrity entirely, particularly if club doctors and administrators have knowingly participated.
But while human nature suggests elite athletes will always be tempted by the lure of performance-enhancing drugs – and football is no exception – it’s organised crime and its relationship to the global betting industry that A-League officials must be most suspicious of.
It’s an industry I perhaps have a better working knowledge of than most.
When I moved to Japan midway through 2006, I did so without having lined up any particular job to speak of.
It didn’t take me long to get a job teaching English in a foreign language school of some repute, but not being the most sociable of types, I decided it wasn’t for me.
And having already picked up some work elsewhere writing about Japanese football, I typed something like ‘Japan football jobs’ into Google and came across a website offering to pay for match previews and reports.
I ended up writing for that particular site for years, not just about Japanese football but about many other leagues as well, including – briefly – the A-League.
In doing so I was doing absolutely nothing illegal; simply taking publicly available information, collating it and essentially selling it to an agency who paid me for my time and effort.
But the fact it was a subscription-based service, and with the company later offering real-time information, I soon realised they were selling the reports to betting agencies and, it must be said, professional gamblers.
Once again, I should stress that there is nothing inherently illegal in betting on sports.
In fact, the industry in Australia is heavily regulated and for better or worse pumps millions of dollars into the economy.
But I bet you, if you’ll pardon the pun, that the Australian gambling industry has problems dealing with Asian betting syndicates.
It’s these syndicates, based mainly in Southeast Asian states like Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, which investigative journalist Declan Hill has routinely highlighted are principally involved in fixing football matches.
And they’re usually doing it in leagues they believe won’t attract international scrutiny.
That’s why you often read about the lower leagues in regions like the Balkans coming under scrutiny and it’s precisely why A-League officials need to be on guard.
That said, minimum wage laws and the fact A-League players are paid relatively well means it should be far less tempting for them to engage in corrupt practices than in countries where wages are poor and often not paid on time, if at all.
However, the vast sums of money to be made gambling on football mean there are plenty of organisations willing to use any angle available to predict the outcome of results.
I was once approached by a legitimate betting outlet from Hong Kong who asked me to write previews of Japanese second division games for them.
I didn’t take them up on the offer, but what I most remember about their approach was that the money they offered would have made it one of the best-paying jobs I’ve ever had in football.
And that’s a pertinent fact when you consider what is happening to journalism. Media outlets might be dying a slow death but betting agencies are flourishing.
That not only says something about the society we live in, it also suggests the A-League must be extremely vigilant if it’s to protect itself from the global threat of match fixing.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman