Pegasus suspend players in scandal over Hong Kong match-fixing investigation by ICAC
Soccer executives express disappointment over revelations of latest corruption case that damages the game’s reputation in the community
Hong Kong Premier League club Pegasus has suspended players caught up in a corruption case as local soccer executives condemned the latest match-fixing scandal that has again rocked the sport for the wrong reasons.
Six people, of whom five are current or former players, were arrested in an operation by the ICAC code-named “Flower Field” that began on Tuesday over alleged bribery amounting to over HK$90,000 in fixing the results of matches involving Pegasus in the Reserve Division League of the 2015-16 season.
The club’s assistant coach-cum-player, three active players and a former player were arrested along with a suspected bookmaker on Wednesday. All those arrested have now been released on bail as inquiries continue into the case.
Hong Kong Football Association executives expressed their dismay at the revelations.
Pui Kwan-kay, the vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA), was disappointed to see a match-fixing scandal emerge again in domestic competitions.
“Only two years ago we suffered from a similar scandal with a player convicted with a 12-month sentence in jail. It’s so devastating to see things happen so soon again,” Pui said, referring to the 2014 case involving former Happy Valley player Sasa Mus.
“The players must be responsible for their own behaviour and under no circumstances can they break the rules by accepting bribes for match-fixing.”
Pegasus announced on Thursday that the club would immediately suspend the four current players from all duties until the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation had been concluded.
The club also reiterated its determination to crack down on any illegal behaviour by players.
“Every player or official must give their best in any match and we adopt a zero tolerance approach to any such behaviour,” the club statement said.
ICAC inquiries revealed that the five arrested players might have conspired to accept bribes from others, including the suspected bookmaker, as reward for their participation in rigging four Pegasus matches in the Reserve Division. The alleged bribes were said to amount to more than HK$90,000.
The suspected bookmaker, who was among the six arrested, was also alleged to have taken illegal bets from bettors on those football matches.
With the top-tier Premier League under close monitoring, the reserve league, which virtually has no spectators, has attracted illegal bookmakers who are running underground betting pools for mainland punters, especially those in the nearby Pearl River Delta, according to a club administrator.
It is illegal to gamble under mainland law.
The HKFA has since been made aware of the situation and has gathered evidence and forwarded it to the authorities, including the ICAC.
Mark Sutcliffe, the HKFA chief executive, said the association was on full alert in preventing corruption.
“The association is keen to uphold the highest standards of integrity within Hong Kong soccer and has introduced in recent years a range of measures designed to mitigate the threat of corruption,” said Sutcliffe.
“It is disappointing to note that further allegations of misconduct have come to light ... all people involved in soccer are bound by a ‘code of conduct’ that forbids any form of corruption.
“As in all walks of life, there will always be a minority of people who fail to live up to the expected standards. The association remains determined to eradicate all forms of football corruption.”
The HKFA’s measures include the appointment of an integrity officer, employment of a specialist monitoring agent, preseason briefings to players and clubs on the dangers of match-manipulation, co-operation with Fifa and Asian Football Confederation integrity initiatives and the establishment of a confidential “whistle-blower” hotline and player support unit.
Peter Leung Shou-chi, a veteran club administrator, feared the incident would tarnish the reputation of the sport in Hong Kong and make commercial sponsors think twice.
“I could not imagine [the reaction] when our club sponsor heard about the scandal,” said Leung, who is the executive director of defending Hong Kong Premier League champions Eastern.
“They are injecting HK$30 million a season into Eastern and suddenly they were told players in Hong Kong are accepting money to fix match results. This has to be stopped or clubs will suffer.”