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All Finnish-ed for Zambian match-fixers?

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Piers Edwards | 14:06 UK time, Monday, 25 July 2011

It's not every day that a nation's footballers get barred from playing in a country but that's precisely the fate awaiting Zambians in Finland - albeit unofficially.

For last Tuesday, seven Zambians were found guilty of selling out their team Rovaniemi Palloseura - popularly known as RoPS - as gambling-related match-fixing plunged yet another league into abject despair.

"We will never take any Zambians again - and I don't think any other Finnish club will ever take a Zambian player (again)," RoPS chairman Risto Niva told the BBC.

For the dented image of Finland's game, with 24 games judged to have been fixed, means that sponsorship and advertising revenues have already dropped, angering the clubs as financial insult adds to the injury of realising the corrupt nature of their league.

Finnish football fans have seen their national league ruined by corruption, with nine players convicted this year for match-fixing some 30 games dating back to 2008

The Finnish championship - known as the Veikkausliiga given, irony of ironies, that it is sponsored by betting agency Veikkaus - unwittingly became a target of Asian gambling syndicates because of its timing.

Running from April/May to October - to avoid the harsh winter climate - the league neatly fills the gap between the off-seasons of Europe's major leagues.

Yet despite knowing all this, it still seems fairly remarkable that global match-fixing's unwanted tentacles can still reach as far as Rovaniemi - a city (pop: 60,000) in the distant north of Finland and capital of Lapland no less.

But into Father Christmas' lair came gamblers looking for gifts and when a club based fractionally south of the Arctic circle is targeted for corruption, it makes you wonder if anywhere is safe from one of world sport's most dangerous threats.

Fifa's head of security, Chris Eaton, even suggested this past week that footballers from poor countries are being 'trafficked' around the world in order to facilitate match-fixing.

"It is only anecdotal evidence at this stage but it is clear. They (the match-fixers) often target people from humble origins," says the Australian.

"They will go to junior competitions and recruit ... players. 'I can get you a contract, or a game in Europe or in South America.' They will invest in the development of players and officials and then they expect payment - they want their cut."

There are widespread concerns that Africans players are more susceptible than most given their lack of financial resources, as Benin's German coach Reinhard Fabisch stated when revealing that a Singapore-based company had - through an intermediary - approached him about fixing a match at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations.

In the case of RoPS' Zambians, all were recruited by a one-time hero of the club - Zeddy Saileti - a player who spent some 15 years with the club, finishing top scorer on numerous occasions, and who had a 1994 Nations Cup final appearance under his belt.

But somewhere along the line, Saileti turned bad and his influence on impressionable youngsters - who the Lapland District court said took bribes of US$15-57,000 - was one of the reasons given by the court for the seven's suspended sentences.

The only man to go down was an infamous Singaporean who goes by the name of Wilson Raj Perumal - when not travelling on a false passport that is (the act which prompted his arrest by Finnish border guards in February).

He was given two years in jail - the court ruling that he bagged US$210,000 from his fixing (and his syndicate some 1.5m Euros for every arranged match) - and although the Finnish system means he may be free by March, football officials everywhere should be breathing a relative sigh of relief.

Fifa has linked Perumal to a conspiracy to 'fix matches in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Central and South America' - but it's surely in Africa where his malign powers have been at their most brazen.

Not so much for allegedly taking a team masquerading as Togo's national side to play and lose in Bahrain, far more because of his role in Zimbabwe's 2009 tour of Asia - where the national team lost heavily to both Syria and Thailand.

Testimony from the internationals is that Perumal sat on the actual team bench, where he instructed players earning a year's salary in the blink of an eye when to concede goals.

On a recent visit to Harare, Sepp Blatter said that anyone found guilty of match-fixing would be banned for life but Fifa has been silent so far on the fate of the RoPS players (which also includes two Georgians) - and that of two other former Finland-based Zambians convicted earlier this year.

All are currently free to play - assuming any club will take such a toxic product - but is this the right message at a time when match-fixing is smothering ever more of the game?

Indeed, one Finnish FA official I've spoken to feels Perumal's arrest is just the tip of the iceberg - and such is the nature of the Singaporean's secret networks that another fixer will step in to his shoes, at the behest of the Mr Bigs watching on from the shadows.

But if this scourge of the game is going to be stopped, then surely Fifa needs to ban all those found guilty of match-fixing in Finland for life?


  • Comment number 1.

    It's no real surprise that players coming from poor countries are sometimes swayed to take bungs and "fix matches".

    Especially when a similar example is - allegedly and according to the opinions of some - being set at the very top of the game...

  • Comment number 2.

    Who is surprised? Across the world Football sold its integrity a long time ago. In this sport everything is for sale. So a few wandering mercenaries fix some matches so what? If the game had a soul there wouldn't be so many players playing purely for a quick buck. What kind of meaning does the Finnish league have if a club has seven Zambians in the team! ... and the Premiership is no better. There is no cause to be pious about this. For a foreigner playing in a foreign land for the casual entertainment of fans who probably can't remember what it's like to kick a football throwing a match is just doing business.

  • Comment number 3.

    I personally would find it so difficult to let someone skin me or delibrately miss a chance to achieve a fixed result, these players obviosly have no love for the game and should be banned. Although given the diabolical odds bookies had out these days and the money they make as a result it not surprising that a match fixing is becoming more prevalent. Still it is FIFA's duty to focus on the players punishments and I think they should all be banned for life as it is the greatest crime in sport

  • Comment number 4.

    Why does no one realise that banning players for life is a stupid idea. Especially the african ones who are so desperate for the money. The emphasis should be on catching the syndicates and shutting them down, not just mindlessly banning players when there are many more who will do the same. I know that fixing is morally wrong but its like catching a kid who carries and sells drugs and locking him up for life whilst ignoring the dealer whose behind it all

  • Comment number 5.

    Banning players for life is exactly the right move. There will always be betting syndicates outside the jurisdiction of FIFA or national governments but without the co-operation of players and/or officials they have nothing to bet on.
    This is not a problem about football selling out or something akin to the Qatar world cup bid and the alleged bribes. The evil here is outside football rather than within.

  • Comment number 6.

    Remember the Nigeria v Argentina match where the ref found plenty of time to add on, and then found a penalty kick deep into the time he had manufactured?

    That match was played earlier this year and it was obvious that the ref had a hand in deciding the final result. What happend afterwards? Did FIFA follow up on that one?

  • Comment number 7.

    Corruption? I'm glad it's started to be picked up on. Soon we'll see the FA and UEFA looked in on. Elitism in sport is ruining the game, so that incidents like these [ ] stop going unpunished, and the playing field can be levelled. Match fixing is the tip of the ice-berg. FIFA needs re-structuring and top-bottom changes of personel. The fat cats clubs are too comfortable living off free-tickets to big matches.

    Top blog though, glad to see someone at the BBC tackling the hard-hitting issues!

  • Comment number 8.

    @2 - Congratulations on missing the point. I think Phil McNulty has an update on Ashley Young's ankle or Man City buying up the moon - you should head over there and have good rant and allow people here to have some proper discussion without dragging everything football related down to the lowest common denominator.

    This story matters because it actually address some issues regarding the beautiful game outside that gloried plastic-fest, that is the Premiership. In many, or if not, all cases these players are earning an average wage and having to heavily support their families back home.

    How do you explain the Africans that got stitched up in Singapore a few years ago? It was entirely justified to defraud them because they are Africans and are pretty much slave labour that will do anything for a few extra dollars? Bah. Ironic that two of the biggest scandals involving African players has not come from within Africa itself but rather from the exploits of two Singaporean businessman. These are the soulless mercenaries that are destroying football at this level, not the poor sods who are being exploited. They may be footballers, which is a good enough excuse to hate them because of Wayne Rooney's hair transplants, but they are also human beings living in very real and very human situations that is so far detached from English football.

  • Comment number 9.

    Am I the only one thinking there are better ways dealing with this other than just banning them? These are just small fish and they can be replaced easily. We should offer amnesty for them to come clean, wear bugs so they can gather evidence against the bigger fish. When enough evidence is collected, send them to the authorities. I believe this will be more effective.

  • Comment number 10.

    Will banning seven Zambian players from the Finnish league or arresting one man connected to gambling syndicates solve anything? Not a chance.

    Cricket suffered with match-fixing in the 1990s, a bunch of major cricketers (including the captains of India, South Africa and Pakistan) were banned for life. Even still the events of Lords in 2010 and the subsequent investigations that it is almost impossible to clean any sport or walk of life of tainted individuals.

    The only hope authorities have of retaining any hope is that ensuring that networks are put into place to educate players that such a thing is not good and severely punish all those found guilty.

    We will never be able to eliminate human greed and, therefore, we will never eliminate corruption. The goal has to be to reduce it to near negligible levels.

  • Comment number 11.

    Entirely agree with post number 10, in so far as expecting to be able to eliminate ALL the bad, corrupt or unsavoury things in football is a little like expecting to wake up tomorrow morning and read the headlines on every newstand saying "THERE IS NO MORE CRIME IN THE WORLD - RESOLUTION FOUND, IMPLEMENTED AND EXPECTED TO WORK AD-INFINITUM".

    Not going to happen - right? Therefore the best that "football" can do (i.e. The Authorities, irrespectively of which one) is police it in a sound, structured manner, introduce laws or sanctions and put them on record so that everyone knows what the consequences (may) be. I say may, in brackets, because a little like common law, the same offence doesn't always carry the same punishment.

    Of course we all want a clean game, with no match fixing, corruption and the like. The reality is that similar to athletics, it exists and we should no longer be suprised. Instead let's just deal with it as best we can.

    If this subject was passed to the script writers of (say) The Fast Show, you can just see Simon Day taking a bung to avoid catching the biggest carp you've ever seen in the National Blindfolded Fishing Championships, whilst two shadowy characters are spotted busily looking up the odds of a substitute competitor coming on for the last 10 minutes of his stretch, and bagging a brace!

  • Comment number 12.

    It's important to recognise that this is not primarily a 'football''s also a criminal one and part of a wider social problem. Fixing is difficult to regulate and police in a number of sports because match fixing is essentially set up by gambling syndicates linked to organised crime, mafia. Players are fixing matches because of financial inducement and threats coming from these individuals and these gangs. In some countries it is so endemic and links with mafia are so deep that it's difficult to have an 'open, honest' culture where sport is clean.

  • Comment number 13.

    "We will never take any Zambians again - and I don't think any other Finnish club will ever take a Zambian player (again),"

    I am the only one who has an issue with this statement. They find 7 bad eggs out of hundreds of Zambians (including Kalusha Bwalya and the Katongo brothers) who have played in Europe and acquitted themselves admirably and suddenly all Zambians are bad news. I am all for banning the 7 but don't tar all Zambians with the same brush. There are crooks from every country. Will they ban Italians, Greeks and Turks as well given the match fixing scandals in those countries involving their nationals? How about the Georgians who contributed 2 players to the shameful incident.This type of stereotyping is hurtful (I would know, I'm Nigerian) and does nothing to solve the problem. As others have suggested go for the big fish or the whole excercise is in futility.

  • Comment number 14.

    @6 - Re. the Nigeria v Argentina game, this is a game that Fifa are following up - through the Australian mentioned above, Chris Eaton. However, as he admitted in June, the only problem is that Fifa are struggling to locate the ref, Niger's Ibrahim Chaibou, in question. Eaton is currently doing a fair amount of travelling as he tries to chase up various issues of this nature around the world, so there is no word as yet re. the Nigeria v Argentina game. However, he is due shortly in Zimbabwe I understand - so we might get an update then since our reporter there will be chasing him...

  • Comment number 15.

    Just read about this game , why wasnt this investigated , ok its an old one but OMG


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