Club in betting scandal given free players
The Victorian Premier League soccer club at the centre of Australia's biggest match-fixing scandal were provided with five players from England this season at no expense, their president says.
Southern Stars FC president Ercan Cicek says he had no suspicion of any alleged match-fixing until news broke on Sunday that Victorian police had arrested 10 people - believed to be nine Stars players plus the coach.
The arrests relate to an alleged match-fixing ring estimated to have reaped more than $2 million of betting winnings, mainly overseas, from manipulating scores of the bottom-placed Stars.
They follow a Victoria police investigation which began last month on information from Swiss-based sports and betting data intelligence agency Sportradar, which was passed on by Football Federation Australia.
"This is the first case we've uncovered of this level of match-fixing in Australia," said Victoria police deputy commissioner Graham Ashton.
Ashton said police were interviewing those allegedly involved and more people could yet be implicated.
Many of the players arrested were from the United Kingdom and playing in Australia in their off-season.
Cicek said five players from England joined the south-east Melbourne-based Stars at the start of the season, at the instigation of a man who also offered to organise sponsorship.
Cicek said the man, whose full name he was unable to provide to AAP, first contacted him in 2012.
"Last year somebody emailed me from England, (saying) `We want to sponsor your club,' Cicek said.
The Stars initially ignored the offer, but received a second approach about six months later.
"Again comes email to me ... he is saying `We give you five players for a present'."
The Stars, who Cicek described as a small community club, didn't have to pay the players.
"Our committee members are thinking, `Oh beautiful, five players for free, we're not going to pay anything, it's a big big bonus'.
"It looks like a delight for us."
Cicek said the Stars' coach also gave his services for free this season, telling the club he just wanted a chance at Premier League level.
"Our football club's budget is very squeezed," Cicek said.
"That's why we say `If you come in we can't pay anything to you. We don't have any budget for that.'
"He said `Okay, I'll come to you, I'll organise my sponsors and then I'll come to you. I'll bring money."
Cicek said the prospect of match-fixing never occurred to Stars officials.
"We (were) never thinking about (the) betting side or the other side, (that) he's going to take money somewhere.
"We don't know. We were thinking about only our club, what's the advantage for our club?"
The Stars have played 21 games this season, losing 16 and drawing four.
Their only win was a 1-0 victory over top side Northcote City, on August 18.
The Stars had lost their previous four matches, conceding a total of 13 goals and not scoring any.
Those arrested were expected to face newly-introduced match fixing charges which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Ashton said the case sounded a loud warning.
"Further match-fixing risks are imminent in Australia, partly because of localised overseas betting on Australian sporting events due to our favourable time zone.
"It is vital that we continue gathering intelligence to take preventative action to make it difficult for organised crime to infiltrate our sporting codes.
He added: "We hope this sends the message that we're not a soft touch ... we'll be onto it."
FFA chief executive David Gallop welcomed the work of the police and Sportradar.
"This highlights the fact that lower league games, which aren't under the scrutiny of things like TV broadcasts, are potentially more susceptible to this kind of activity, Gallop said.
"What we can say is the detection measures that we've had in place have worked, and that is a sign we're working in the right direction.
Gallop noted the scandal was "alarming" and "clearly distressing", but cautioned it was a one-off incident of illegality under FFA's umbrella.
"At this stage, the police have indicated to us that they're looking at an isolated issue in Victoria," Gallop said. "We need to be guided by the police in that regard."