Match-fixing still happening in Hong Kong, says soccer chief as he calls for legalised betting
Hong Kong Football Association’s Mark Sutcliffe wants help from the government to stamp out the issue once and for all, or risk the game falling further
Sutcliffe told delegates at a Soccerex China forum in Zhuhai on Wednesday that match-fixing was still happening despite their best efforts to stamp it out, including hiring a fraud-monitoring consultant.
“We have a significant percentage of games being fixed at the moment,” said Sutcliffe, the chief executive of the Hong Kong Football Association. “Even though our players have signed a code of conduct and we have compulsory briefings at the start of every season where we explain what the risks are of match-fixing, how they are going to be approached, how to avoid it and what the consequences are.”
The HKFA in 2014 employed Sportradar, a Switzerland-based company that specialises in monitoring matches and the gambling industry globally to identify unusual betting patterns.
The company, claims Sutcliffe, earmarked a number of games where irregularities have been spotted.
“Sportradar monitor every game in our Premier League, our First Division and our reserve division and we get a weekly report on those games that have been fixed,” he said.
“This year for example, we had the compulsory briefing and a week later, one week later, we had a report from Sportradar saying one of the games had been fixed.”
Sutcliffe said the HKFA wanted to start working with authorities to find a way to stamp out the issue once and for all, or risk the standard of the game in Hong Kong falling further.
“In Hong Kong, it’s illegal to bet on Hong Kong football, but we know there’s a massive unregulated market and that makes the situation worse,” he said.
“We want to try to open a dialogue with the government now on legalising football betting and to establish a fund to help us combat the problem of match-fixing.”
While betting on overseas leagues is permitted by the government through the Hong Kong Jockey Club, wagering on matches played in the Hong Kong Premier League is prohibited.
That has driven punters wanting to bet on the local game into the hands of illegal bookmakers, depriving the Hong Kong taxpayer of revenue that Sutcliffe would like to see diverted back into the game.
“Match-fixing is an insidious cancer,” he said. “Players have been fixing games and there are examples of that. There have been examples of players being convicted, losing their livelihoods, their reputation and sometimes they’ve lost their freedom because they’ve been given custodial sentences.
“The reason I say this is because it’s a vicious circle. People don’t want to go to watch games that have been fixed and if people stop going to watch the games it affects the gate receipts, the clubs’ income, the attractiveness of clubs to sponsors and with less money you attract poorer quality players and eventually it just goes downhill. So we have to do something about it.”
Match-fixing has blighted Hong Kong football, with former player of the year Lee Wai-lim admitting to his involvement in fixing two reserve team games in 2016 at a court hearing in January.
Lee was one of six people connected with Premier League club Pegasus to have been arrested in October 2016 and Sutcliffe stressed the future development of the sport was being hampered by the failure to fully address the issue.
“The big problem for us is that we get a lot of money from the government and from a charity – the Jockey Club – and from commercial partners,” Sutcliffe said.
“None of those bodies wants to be associated with a sport that is tarnished. It affects our reputation, it affects our funding and that then affects our ability to spend money on the things we should be spending money on like grass-roots development, women’s development, referees, coaching education and so on.
“Collectively we somehow have to try to tackle this problem. It’s not going to go away. Actually, it’s probably getting worse, linked to the question of football betting.
“Seventy per cent of football betting in the whole world is in Asia, Asia is its home and it is part of the culture and we need to something about it.”
In 2014, six players from the First Division Happy Valley team were among nine people arrested under suspicion of receiving tens of thousands of dollars as a reward for taking part in rigging a match, however only central defender Sasa Mus was found guilty and he was sentenced to one year’s jail.
Happy Valley and Tuen Mun were suspended from the league in 2014, with Tuen Mun coming under investigation after defender Li Ming headed into his own net to hand Yokohama FC a stoppage-time victory in 2013.