CONTROVERSIAL Wilson Raj Perumal, a Singapore national believed to be the mastermind of the match fixing scandal that dogged Zimbabwean football between 2007 and 2009, this week shamed the Warriors before the world.Not only did he shame the Warriors, the national association Zifa, he also shamed me and you. He portrayed us as gullible and corrupt people who easily fell into his match-fixing machinations.
In his own words, in an interview broadcast to the world by CNN, when referring to the Zimbabwe national team, “We were like two hands prepared to clap.” It does not get any worse than that. The guy did not have to work extra hard to convince our players to partake in the alleged match-fixing scandal, the boys and perhaps their leadership were willing partners in this cruel thing called match-fixing, which Perumal believes is a more dangerous threat to world football than racism.
What was perhaps a way to make a quick buck at a time when times were hard in the country and foreign currency scarce, has now become one of the major divisive factors in our football. There are those who are accused of having been part of the scam, and their sympathisers on one side, and those who believe they have the mandate to clean the game of this mess, and of course, with their own sympathisers on one side, with the end result being immense mud slinging and fierce rivalry which only God knows when it will come to an end.
In his own words, Perumal says he tried to corrupt our beloved Warriors way back in 1997 after six players had allegedly agreed to share a handsome $100,000 to throw the game by losing 4-0 to Bosnia Herzegovina in an international friendly played in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but things did not go as planned, perhaps our football heroes were still too innocent or morally upright then, as the match ended 2-2.
“We gave them a result that was difficult to accomplish and what happened during the game was that one player accidentally kicked the ball into the net.”
A decade later, Perumal targeted Zimbabwe again in what became known as the “Asiagate” scandal with both players and officials allegedly receiving bribes to fix a string of matches between 2007 and 2009. “We were like two hands prepared to clap,” Perumal says.
CNN also interviewed former Fifa match-fixing investigator, Terry Steans, who said he was shocked when he was handed a Fifa case file on match-fixing in Zimbabwe in 2009.
“I read that file and thought: ‘No. It can’t be. It can’t be this easy and it can’t be this prevalent,’” Steans told CNN.
“Five years later, I know yes it was and yes it is. But that file opened our eyes and it was to set Fifa Security, at that time, on a path to try and discover as much as we could about the fixers and how prevalent and widespread they were.”
Zimbabwe’s game was destroyed by the fixing scandal, Steans says.
About 100 players and officials were implicated, some sanctioned with some receiving life bans while others were barred from playing for several years.
CNN noted that the Footballers Union of Zimbabwe has been critical of the Zimbabwe Football Association investigation but Steans says Zifa deserves credit for taking action.
“They appointed an investigation committee and they took the investigation as far as they possibly could do.”
Perumal told CNN he achieved around a 70-80 percent success rate and claims to have rigged games at the Olympics, World Cup qualifiers, the Women’s World Cup, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the African Cup of Nations.
But his attempts to corrupt didn’t always go undetected by the authorities, notably in Singapore where he was imprisoned three times for football-related offences.
In 1995, he was jailed for 12 months for trying to bribe a football player. Four years later he was imprisoned for 26 months for introducing a referee to a match-fixer and in 2000 he attacked a footballer with a hockey stick prior to a game – an offence he says he deeply regrets.
In 2011, the football authorities eventually caught up with Perumal again, this time in Finland where he was arrested and subsequently jailed for fixing matches in the country’s premier division.
Perumal served one year of a two-year sentence before being extradited to Hungary where he has been helping police there with match-fixing investigations in the Balkans.
Steans said in the interview he was shocked when police showed him Perumal’s list of contacts.
“Perumal had 38 countries in one phone book contacts list – he had officials and players from those 38 countries,” Steans told CNN.
“If you then go to his laptop address book, there were over 50. Fifa has 209 associations . . . so we are talking a quarter of Fifa associations for one fixer,” he added.
“As we now know, he used most of these people and used them for his own ends and his syndicate’s ends and made a lot of money out of it.”
Perumal looks back fondly on that period of his life.
“I have no regrets. It was like, it was a phase of my life and I enjoyed it and I travelled around the world. I had a good time.” There are glimmers of remorse. Perumal says he feels sorry for fixing some matches but then says there are “no regrets” for others.
“Football is no longer a sport. It is more like a business now. So I think we’re just trying to make money out of this business. People want to win and they will do anything just to get a result.”
Fifa says preserving the game’s integrity is “a top priority” and in 2011 announced it was giving Interpol $26.5 million to fight match-fixing.
“We take any allegations of match manipulation very seriously and are looking into those,” Fifa’s media department told CNN via email.
“Obviously we are aware of publications such as Kelong Kings. We do not further comment on our activities and we do not share investigative reports.
“Fifa continues to work closely with law enforcement agencies as well as the respective public authorities and other sports organisations on a national, regional and global level to tackle the issue of match manipulation.”
But Perumal thinks they could be doing more.
“Fifa has not come up with enough strategies or methods or publicity or marketing or whatever you can call it, to combat match-fixing,” Perumal says.
“Fifa are doing a lot of things to combat racism but I think match-fixing is more of a problem than racism. I’m not saying Fifa shouldn’t pump in so much money (to tackle racism) but what I’m saying is that match-fixing is a more pressing issue.”
Steans says Perumal has been “value for money” for investigators helping them understand how match-fixers operate.
“Wilson is a bit of an enigma,” he says. “But you know what, every piece of information that he gave out of Finland and Hungary that came our way was right.”
The question that people had this week after listening and going through articles deduced from the interview in various platforms was what next for Zifa? The association did well to appoint a commission to investigate the scandal, but it ran into some legal mine field as it was accused of being the prosecutor and judge at the same time.
Those who were sanctioned and paid appeal fees are yet to have a hearing, something that goes against natural justice, but Zifa president Cuthbert Dube insists they will not back down. Nonetheless, the inside story from the man himself – Perumal – was sobering.
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