Match fixers cheating the integrity of our game

I was 13 years-old and playing in Singapore when I was first exposed to the possibility of match fixing.

I was 13 years-old and playing at the Lion City Cup in Singapore when I was first exposed to the possibility of match fixing. I don-t know whether money had changed hands on a particular result but I was made aware that people had bet on me to score the first goal.

I-d been playing up front for the WA State team and as we were walking into the ground for one of our games, a man approached me and was encouraging me to play well. Then he said a lot of people were expecting me to score the first goal and they would win big if I did.

At the time, I acted as most 13-year-olds would and laughed it off. I don-t even remember how the game went but looking back now it was pretty obvious what was going on.

Football is not the only sport open to corruption through gambling but due to its global popularity it does seem to be a greater target for bent players, officials and even gangsters.

The billions of dollars now paid to players and clubs has no bearing on where match fixing starts or ends. From England, Italy, Turkey, Nigeria and Canada to Australasia, it seems nowhere is safe from the greed and corruption, as we have seen recently with the allegations against some members of the Southern Stars club in Victoria.

This particular case, which brought match fixing back into the spotlight, had me thinking about my own career and whether anyone I know cheated me, or if they were as naive as me and it never entered their minds to cheat their teammates?

According to Interpol, betting on football is the most used way for organised crime figures to launder money. The worldwide web, and the willingness of people to wager fortunes in the hope of increasing their wealth, has made the returns on these ill gotten gains even greater.

The explosion of online gambling through major sponsorship and global advertising has made it more prevalent and socially acceptable than ever. A report in The New York Times recently estimated that three billion dollars a day is bet on sport - most of it on soccer.

South East Asia-s love of the game and also its lust for gambling is creating major issues for football around the world. Having 40 percent of the world's population unable to gamble legally in their own countries has driven punting underground and to almost every country.

During my time in the UK, I was aware of an occasion when thousands of pounds were wagered by members of an English Premier League Club on when the ball would first go out of play. Was it a coincidence that the first pass of the game ended up in touch?

Closer to home, and as recently as this season, I was asked whether Bayswater City, the team I now coach in the WA State Premier League, could be part of a game in which at least four goals were scored. I was then told that sponsorship money of $20,000 a game was available to help the players and the club financially. That phone call was ended abruptly, and in disgust.

But how do we try to resolve these problems or minimise the influence these nefarious characters have on the game we love? Banning players from betting isn-t the answer because it is not the root of the problem. Neither is banning betting on sports as this would only further drive a deepening black market.

Cricket bodies have made players sign agreements that effectively make available their bank statements. It is a great step towards payment transparency but the issue is much more complex with football, which is played in almost every country in the world. FIFA, UEFA and Interpol have spent a great deal of time and money investigating match fixing without stopping the problem. But while there is no quick fix and no simple answer there are steps football can take to ensure integrity in our sport.

The setting up of a single international body, with input from world sporting groups, police and gambling authorities, to protect the game and regulate betting would be a great first step.

We must continue to monitor betting patterns and act quickly when irregularities become apparent, as Football Federation Australia had been in the case with the Southern Stars.

Education is also essential and players, who might be tempted to mix in the wrong circles, must be vigilant against the dangers.

Finally, as bad as the Southern Stars saga has been, football must capitalise on this incident by using the opportunity to create a campaign raising awareness of the problem.

These cheats earn thousands defrauding football and we must do more to protect the integrity of our game.