Kuala Lumpur, Feb 20: FIFA's head of security warned Wednesday that the fight against match-fixing will ultimately flounder without the full support of governments across the world.
Ralf Mutschke hopes a Singaporean businessman accused of heading a crime syndicate that made millions by betting on rigged Italian games will be brought to face the courts with the help of local government authorities.
Speaking at a conference in Malaysia co-hosted by Interpol and the Asian Football Confederation, Mutschke said referees and players are being banned for life for corruption but the masterminds walk free because of legislative weaknesses.
“We have to bring in the governments because they have to change legislations and laws, because a lot of countries do not have proper laws fighting match manipulation and corruption,” he said. “Talking is nice, but we have to come to a conclusion that it's time now for action.”
The European Union's police agency reported earlier this month that organised crime gangs have fixed or tried to fix hundreds of football matches around the world in recent years.
Europol said its 18-month review found 380 suspicious matches in Europe and another 300 questionable games outside the continent, mainly in Africa, Asia and South and Central America. It also found evidence that Asian crime groups were involved in some of the match-fixing.
Mutschke pointed to the case of Singaporean businessman Tan Seet Eng known as Dan Tan for whom Italian authorities have issued an arrest warrant but have been unable to take into custody because it cannot be served on him while he is in Asia.
Tan “needs to be brought to justice ... but it's out of our jurisdiction,” Mutschke said. “Why should FIFA punish the entire Singapore if it's a political problem? The problem has to be solved on a political level.”
Singapore police have said the city state's authorities are reviewing information submitted by the Italians before deciding what to do.
Tan's former associate, Wilson Raj Perumal, has alleged to Italian investigators that Tan has placed syndicate wagers on fixed games using Asia-based online betting sites via intermediaries in China.
Mutschke said FIFA is working to ensure that betting syndicates don't infiltrate the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and is providing special training for referees and teams and setting up a round-the-clock hotline to report any irregularities.
“Up to now, to the best of my knowledge, there was no World Cup infiltrated by organized crime,” he said.
Zhang Jilong, the acting president of the Asian Football Confederation, acknowledged that Asia has emerged as the financial hub for match-fixing syndicates and must make more effort to fight the scourge.
Brendan Schwab, the Asian head of the International Federation of Professional Footballers, warned that targeting players and officials without going after criminal syndicates would be ineffective.
“This will just give more ammunition and more confidence to the fixers who realize that the sport is not serious in cooperating with international police to target the fixers,” Schwab said on the sidelines of the conference.
“We know that the fixers treat the players as disposable, so if (the players) are sanctioned, they'll just go with another group (of players). Our strong message is to tackle it at its source. To tackle organized crime and, within the sport, do whatever we can to make the players more resilient.”
“In Indonesia, it's at a tragic level. We have said to the Asian Football Confederation that we can't have players suffer like this. If we are serious about integrity, we have to be serious about the rights of the players,” Schwab said, adding that players also need to be educated about not accepting bribes.
The officials' comments came as Football Association of Thailand president and longtime FIFA executive committee member Worawi Makudi prepares to meet with officials from FIFA and Interpol at Kuala Lumpur on Thursday about allegations of match-fixing during last year's Thai FA Cup final.
Earlier this week, the Chinese Football Association stripped Shanghai Shenhua of its 2003 league title and fined the club $160,000 as part of sanctions aimed at stamping out fixing in the Chinese Super League.