Sunday, October 23, 2005

Latest football match-fixing "must be eliminated"

Edward Thangarajah reminises in the Bangkok Post about previous football match-fixing scandals in Asia and how the the game was rescued from criminals:

If soccer or any sport is to thrive it must be rid of all scandals, especially match-fixing. In the past, unscrupulous people used to go from ground to ground, sit in the comfort of hotels, drink beer and fix matches. They used to do it with the connivance of players. Top strikers were bribed not to score while defenders were made to shoot into their own goal or make costly mistakes which enabled the opposition to score.

I still remember the 1981 SEA Games in Manila. A young Thai team, trained by the late Pravitr Chaiyasarm and comprising many Rajpracha players was spearheaded by young centre-forward Piyapong Pue-oun of the Royal Thai Air Force. He was only 16 years-old and helpled to win the SEA Games gold medal with a shock victory over hot favourites Malaysia in the final.

The team was managed by Udomsak Ujjin, who sensibly removed all telephones from the teams rooms and kept a close watch over the players. No one was allowed to telephone the team. Thank goodness, there were no mobile phones then so it was easy to keep watch.The people who fixed matches did go to the Philippine capital but, thanks to the vigilance of the Thai team officials, they could not reach the players.

Not only did Thailand stun Malaysia, many Thai players won fame and glory. Piyapong was known as Pele-piya by top Malaysian players. That was the beginning of Thailand's surge in Southeast Asian and Asian soccer.

Unfortunately, Thailand hasn't maintained that momentum. But [the Asian Football Confederations' Peter] Velappan and his magnificent campaign against match-fixing did win and the fixers went underground. Match-fixing wasn't heard of until recently when referees have been charged with allegations of accepting bribes.

If those who have been entrusted with the task of officiating in matches and controlling games resort to match-fixing, then it is going to be very sad for soccer. It is not only in Asia the scandal has been unearthed to place the sport into disgrace. Unless this very dangerous situation changes, soccer on the whole could suffer and no tournament will be safe.

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