Asian soccer fans looking far afield

July 4, 2006

In Vietnam, too, government and sports officials have declared they will be tough on offenders. Vietnam’s V- League has been beset by allegations of bribery in the past year, prompting the police to investigate some 90 players, referees and coaches, according to the Vietnamese news media.


Four members of an under-23 Vietnamese squad have been detained over allegations that they were paid to fix matches in the Southeast Asian Games last December. The Vietnam Football Federation is anxious to improve the image of the sport before it is co-host of the 2007 Asian Cup, amid doubts about its suitability for staging a major regional soccer event.


But beyond appeals to law enforcement agencies to pursue corruption cases and for clubs to adopt a more professional approach to the sport, there is little administrators can do to ensure clean games. Ahead of some important games, soccer administrators have tried locking up players and coaches and denying them access to telephones. Since 2003, the Asian Football Confederation has refused to accept referees from countries where corruption is perceived to be rife.


“There are countries where we are not recruiting anyone – no officials, no managers,” Hammam said, while declining to name the countries.


Still, there is a sense of a finger in the dike in the efforts to prevent corruption. Vast sums of money are pouring into legal and illegal gambling, creating strong incentives for bribery of officials and players in poorly paid leagues.


In January, a senior bureaucrat in Vietnam’s Transport Ministry was arrested for embezzling $1.8 million in aid money. The official is alleged to have placed bets on European soccer games. But investigators in Vietnam claim players have been offered as little as $1,300 to help throw a game, according to local media reports.


The growth in legal soccer gambling is illustrated by the experience of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. After launching soccer betting in the 2003-04 financial year, the club saw annual turnover rise to 26.7 billion Hong Kong dollars, or $3.4 billion, an increase of two-thirds in the first two years. This year soccer betting is expected to reap about half the revenue the club earns from horse racing.

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