KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – The ‘cancer’ of football match-fixing is a pandemic which is too big for one organisation to tackle alone, AFC acting president Zhang Jilong warned as the regional body and INTERPOL kicked off a two-day seminar on the issue on Wednesday.
World football was rocked earlier this month when European police said a Singapore-based syndicate had directed match-fixing for at least 380 football games in Europe alone, with documented profits of eight million euros (7 million pounds) believed to be just the tip of the iceberg.
While the news shocked many in Europe, the announcements were met with little surprise in Asia, which has long struggled to tackle the problem with high profile cases in South Korea, China and Malaysia in recent years.
Zhang, who served as the chairman of the Asian Football Confederation’s Finance Committee during the final years of Mohammed Bin Hammam’s reign as AFC president before the Qatari was banned for life by FIFA for corruption and bribery, said cooperation was required to tackle the problem.
"We are ready to work hand in hand to eradicate this cancer from the game," Zhang told reporters in Kuala Lumpur in his opening speech.
"Match-fixing is too complicated and widespread for one organisation to fight it alone.
"No continent is now left untouched by this disease. Match-fixing is now a pandemic in the world football."
The lack of arrests in the global match-fixing case, that has been reported on in Singapore newspapers for years, have led to criticism but FIFA director of security Ralf Mutshke said that the issue was above their jurisdiction.
"This is a question basically for law enforcement on one side and a problem which politicians have to solve," he said in his address.
"This is a criminal case. It has nothing to do with our responsibility."
Zhang has been in temporary charge of the AFC since June 2011 and is expected to run for the full presidency post during the elections in May after the AFC were finally granted legal clearance to replace Bin Hammam.
The experienced Chinese administrator said no stone was being left unturned in battling the crisis affecting the world’s most popular sport.
"I can assure this conference that AFC will not rest until this blot is completely stamped out in Asia," he said.
"We need to understand how match-fixing works in order to prevent it. We need more information on how crime syndicates operate.
"We want the result of a match to be beyond the shred of a doubt and we will do everything possible to make this happen."
Also speaking on the opening morning of the conference was INTERPOL’s Director of Capacity Building and Training, Dale Sheehan, who warned the knock on problems from match-fixing had expanded way beyond sport.
"Criminals can make millions in illicit profits from match-fixing with little risk of being detected and will exploit every opportunity. By bringing together partners we are raising awareness and understanding of the problem," Sheehan said.
"Sports and fair play are the very fabric of our society and youth and the impact of match-fixing, including murder, suicide, assault and threats has the ability to undermine that very fabric."
Brendan Schwab, Asia chairman of world players’ union FIFPro, said that the problem did not start with the players and that the involvement of his members in discussions would resolve the issue.
"We bring to the table the 65,000 players of FIFPro in a steadfast commitment to work with everyone to uphold the integrity of the game. We ask you to see that the players are part of the solution, and not the problem.
"The unique relationship of trust and confidence that exists between the players and their players’ associations, coupled with the responsible and committed leadership of FIFPro, are needed in order for football to defeat match fixing."
The conference closes on Thursday with a speech by INTERPOL secretary general Ronald Noble discussing what should be done next to prevent match-fixing.
(Reporting by Siva Sithraputhran; Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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