Now more than ever, Football Stakeholders need to work together
As you can imagine, since my return from the UK most of my time has been taken up dealing with the well-publicised match-fixing allegations. I am not going to talk about the cases that are currently being investigated by the ICAC because it is an on-going situation. Suffice to say we have worked closely with the ICAC, not just in relation to the current allegations but on an on-going basis. There is a regular dialogue and sharing of information. This is always on a strict confidential basis. I applaud their diligence and am grateful for their determination to prevent corruption in all its forms.
It is important to note that in relation to these latest allegations, although arrests have been made, no-one has been found guilty of an offence. So my comments below are general remarks and do not relate to any individuals or clubs. However the fact that this has happened disappoints and frustrates me on many levels.
Firstly on a personal level, I detest cheats. Sport has been a constant and dominating force throughout my life. I have been a player, a coach, a manager and more recently an administrator. The majority of the positive things that have happened to me are a direct result of sport whether it is personal achievement, friendships, cultural understanding or the shear pleasure of competition. If you play sport for its intrinsic value you learn to win with humility and to lose graciously. You accept pleasure, pain, anger, elation, humiliation, respect and just about every other human emotion. Therefore I find it totally abominable that some people seek to abuse the purity of competition for personal greed and gain. They destroy the very essence of sport.
That is why I am glad that this investigation is taking place. It is time to do whatever we can to clean up our sport. The HKFA will cooperate fully with the investigation and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to anyone found guilty. Our resolve to sort this out should not be doubted.
Secondly I am disappointed that some people are using this unfortunate incident to denigrate Project Phoenix. The undeniable fact is that match-fixing is a global sports issue. It is not restricted to football or Hong Kong. There are cheats in every sport and there have been since sport was first created. Cricket, cycling, tennis even snooker to name a few have all had problems recently. It is particularly prevalent and high profile in football because it is a global sport that attracts huge betting and media interest. There have been allegations of match-manipulation investigated in over 60 countries in the last two years. So why should Hong Kong be any different? Since I started work here I have been consistent in saying that corruption is a threat and that there are certain characteristics of the local game that make it more susceptible. It is a fact that players, coaches, referees and club officials are paid relatively badly compared to other countries and professions. Furthermore we are in a part of Asia where this kind of corruption is rife. Betting on local football is not legal within our own territory and is therefore difficult to monitor.
So no-one should be surprised that these allegations have come to light, (indeed it has happened here before) but to link it to the Government funded project to transform football and to say that that initiative is not working, is both unjust and missing the point.
Project Phoenix is about improving the whole sport including the governance, administration, partnerships, activities and programmes, structures, systems, facilities etc. It is a roots and branches transformation process. Professional football is only one component of the plan. Whilst the Clubs are Members of the Association, they are independent entities and most of what they do currently falls outside the remit of the HKFA.
If anything, these allegations reinforce the need for Project Phoenix. The whole point of the project is to enhance the quality of football being played in Hong Kong through the systematic development of players. Better quality on the pitch should over time make the local game a product that people will want to watch and this will bring back the crowds and commercial income streams. As the money in the sport increases people should be less vulnerable to corruption.
The other important part of Project Phoenix that this incident strengthens the need for, is of course the establishment of a new Premier League. As I have previously stated, the rationale for this initiative is to ‘professionalise’ the top tier of football in Hong Kong. It is to be based on a Licence system and as part of the Licence application process, clubs will need to explain their ownership, governance and management arrangements. They will also have to demonstrate financial transparency and submit audited accounts.
During the establishment of the new League, the HKFA will continue to work with the ICAC and we will be educating players, coaches, referees and officials on match-fixing, corruption, doping and discrimination. We will implement a Fraud Prevention system because we want the league to be as ethically sound as possible because that is the only way that fans and sponsors will want to get involved. We will also introduce a Fraud Detection system to monitor our matches and flag up any suspicious activity.
I understand why some people may want to distance themselves from Hong Kong football right now but I would ask them to bear in mind that this is a global, not a Hong Kong issue and is restricted to a few corrupt individuals over which the HKFA currently has little influence. I would also remind them that we are being proactive in sorting out the problems. Project Phoenix is instrumental in addressing the difficulties and can be the catalyst for a new era. Rather than hiding in the shadows sniping at the HKFA and specifically Project Phoenix, we need all of the football stakeholders in Hong Kong to stand shoulder to shoulder, to maintain the faith in the long term future of football in Hong Kong and to work together to uphold the integrity of the sport.