Fixing death of beautiful game

By Devinder Singh and Lee Shi-Ian

Rajendran Kurusamy (left) and Sufian Ngah (centre) were charged on June 15 with bribing six players from the Terengganu T-Team to fix their matches against Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang in last year's tournament. Negri Sembilan President's Cup team coach Yusarman Yusof was earlier slapped with 21 charges of match-fixing.Just as Malaysian football seems to be lifting itself out of the doldrums, match-fixing rears its ugly head again. What is more worrying now is that young players are being bought to influence the beautiful game.

MALAYSIAN football could lose the goodwill generated by recent successes on the pitch after two decades of trying if the cancerous growth of match-fixing is not contained.

Winning the Sea Games gold medal in 2009 ended a 20-year drought of international glory and that was quickly followed by the Asean Football Federation Cup last year.

Since then, a swell of national pride has spread through Malaysian football fans and one would be hard pressed not to see at least one person wearing a national jersey walking down a street.

But increasing reports of match-fixing allegations in domestic competitions have now left many wondering if this support may erode just as quickly as it did after the 1994-95 crackdown on players and officials.

These reports were followed by the recent charging of a Singaporean and local bank clerk for allegedly fixing matches in last year's President's Cup.

Singaporean Rajendran Kurusamy, 51, and Sufian Ngah, 41, were charged with bribing six players from the Terengganu T-Team to fix their matches against Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang in last year's tournament.

Earlier, Negri Sembilan President's Cup team coach Yusarman Yusof was slapped with 21 charges of match-fixing.

With these latest developments, suspicions are growing that national players perhaps could also be implicated but the Football Association of Malaysia has gone out of its way to ensure that the welfare of players is taken care of.

In fact, the Sea Games and AFF winning squads have been well rewarded while national coach Datuk K. Rajagobal has been careful in selecting players who are keen to play for the national team.

"Malaysian football is on the rise again so I hope all the effort put in by coaches and management has not gone to waste by a lack of action to tackle this disease," said Kuala Lumpur coach Razip Ismail, who played in Malaysia's 1989 Sea Games gold medal-winning team.

"Fans are slowly returning to watch matches but if they believe that games are being sold, then they will turn away.

"Young players in the President's Cup have now been targeted but I don't know if this is affecting senior players.

"I hope not, because national players have no reason to do so. They are well rewarded as it is."

None of Malaysia's successes over the past two years would have been possible if players had not been fully-committed to the team.

This has led to a groundswell of support from Malaysian fans as evidenced by the huge turnout for the AFF Cup final first leg against Indonesia in Bukit Jalil in December.

"The public is just beginning to have faith in our football, and if this (match-fixing scandal) happens again, it will destroy their confidence," Sports Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek said during National Youth Day celebrations recently.

-New Straits Times