Hong Kong football club backers face tough financial screening in wake of match-fixing probe
Chan Kin-wa and Clifford Lo
The Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) plans to introduce tougher measures to screen the financial background of individual club backers when they establish a new Premier League in September.
The development comes after several soccer players from First Division Happy Valley were understood to have been arrested by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) for alleged match-fixing.
A source familiar with the ICAC's investigation said several other Happy Valley players who were taken to the agency's headquarters on Sunday night were still being investigated. The ICAC has refused to comment.
Dozens of ICAC investigators picked up about 10 players at the Tsing Yi Sports Ground on Sunday night after the end of the match between Happy Valley and Sunray Cave Sun Hei. Happy Valley, six-time Hong Kong champions, lost 5-0.
The HKFA will also decide if they will follow up on a match involving another First Division side, Tuen Mun, after their defender Li Ming headed an own goal to lose the match 2-1 to Yokohama last month.
Tuen Mun and Happy Valley are backed by mainland sponsors, although Tuen Mun decided last week to take back management of the team from their sponsor. Both clubs have applied to postpone their games scheduled for the weekend.
"Sometimes the bosses [sponsors] will say this and that, and they think their views are right. That can influence the coach. Of course it does not happen to many teams, but it does happen," said Pui, who did not go into details.
HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe said more would be done to check the background of backers. "In the new Premier League, we will be asking the clubs for clarity in terms of governance arrangements and financial transparency," he said. "We would want to know more about the clubs on where the money is coming from and where the money is going to. It is part of our plans for the new league."
Ken Ng Kin, an HKFA director and president of domestic powerhouse Kitchee, said they would launch a club licence system for teams that intend to join the Premier League.
"There is no monitoring system in this area at the moment, but in future the clubs must prove they have clear financial arrangements before they can be granted a licence for the new Premier League," said Ng. "This will be done by a separate body without the involvement of the HKFA for the sake of an open and fair system. We are confident these measures can improve the governance of individual clubs."
Sutcliffe said he met ICAC officers and would co-operate with the investigation. "The HKFA take any suggestion of corruption in local soccer very seriously," he said. "However, it is also important to uphold the principle of innocent until proven guilty and therefore we are not jumping to any conclusion regarding these investigations … Corruption is a threat to the integrity of soccer not just in Hong Kong but across the world. It must be eradicated and the HKFA will play its part in doing so."
The cases are a blow to plans to revitalise Hong Kong soccer under Project Phoenix. The government puts HK$20 million a year into the scheme, and last October the HKFA asked the government for annual funding of HK$100 million.
Additional reporting by Phila Siu