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Corruption-scarred Indonesian football grapples with new match-fix scandal

Jakarta (AFP) – Indonesian football’s long-running struggle against corruption has been reignited with authorities promising a new crackdown after a senior official was caught trying to bribe a coach, the latest scandal in a league scarred by mismanagement and deadly hooliganism.

But, dogged by years of match-fixing, violence and corruption rife at all levels of the game, analysts say the Southeast Asian country needs to do more than “lip service” to tackle the endemic problems.

Earlier this month an executive member of the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) resigned after a popular television talk show broadcast a recording of him offering the coach of Madura FC a bribe of approximately $10,000 to throw a second division game.

Hidayat, who like many Indonesians only uses one name, has been handed a three-year ban from football and fined by a PSSI disciplinary committee.

“Match-fixing exists everywhere, in league 1, 2 and 3. The problem is that the match-fixing issue has never been solved and (perpetrators) punished properly,” football analyst Akmal Marhali told AFP.

The PSSI announced the establishment of a special task force to address allegations of match-fixing following the scandal, promising firm action against cheats. 

But critics like Marhali say there needs to be more than just “lip service” to solve a problem that so far seems to be out of the grasp of Indonesian authorities.

“Perpetrators feel like they have impunity because there is no law enforcement,” Marhali said.

– ‘Open secret’ – 

Allegations of match-fixing have swirled around Indonesian football for decades.

Indonesian defender Mursyid Effendi was given a lifetime ban by FIFA after scoring a deliberate own goal in a Tiger Cup match against Thailand in 1998. 

The manager of Borneo-based Bontang FC, Camara Fode, received a lifetime ban for ordering his team to lose against PSLS Lhokseumawe, from Aceh, in a Premier League game in 2013. Players from both teams were also suspended.

The following year, several players from both PSS Sleman and PSIS Semarang were banned for life after scoring five deliberate own goals in the final minutes of the match to avoid a playoff clash.

Long-time fans have become so used to mismanagement and corruption in the game that match-fixing is considered an “open secret”, Dex Glenniza, managing editor of website Pandit Football, told AFP.

Players, referees, and club administrators are all involved in rigging matches, he said, adding that although gambling is illegal in Indonesia, fans often bet through international gambling websites or local bookies.

Glenniza said funding shortfalls for player salaries and club operations, conflicts of interest within the PSSI and weak law enforcement have all made the game an “easy target” for crime syndicates.

Azwan Karim, who served as secretary general of the PSSI between 2014 and 2016, said the PSSI could not tackle the problem alone.

“The PSSI can only use its football judicial procedures,” he told AFP.

“To have a deterrent effect in place, the government should be involved — the police especially.”

– History of problems –

While it has a low international profile, Indonesia has attracted some Premier League players, including former Chelsea star Michael Essien and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Didier Zokora.

But Indonesian football has been tarnished on the global stage by a host of problems over the years — including months of unpaid wages and the deaths of at least two foreign players who were left unable to afford medical care.

An explosive row between the domestic association and government prompted FIFA to ban Indonesia from international competition in 2015. The ban lifted last year.

As if to underline the game’s struggle with corruption, former PSSI chairman Nurdin Halid once ran the organisation from his jail cell where he was serving time on unrelated graft charges.

Indonesia has in recent years also gained a reputation as Asia’s most violent football nation.

In September, 23-year-old Persija Jakarta fan Haringga Sirla was clubbed to death by supporters of arch-rival Persib Bandung outside a stadium in the Javan city of Bandung.

PSSI Vice Chairman Joko Driyono said the association had a zero tolerance approach to match-fixing, and was ready to work with law enforcement authorities on the issue.

Yet, some observers of the Indonesian game are dubious this will result in firm action.

“No more cherry-picking, anyone who breaks the ethical code and integrity of football must be punished,” Marhali, who runs football watchdog Save Our Soccer, said. 

“The PSSI should no longer shield those who are involved in match-fixing — we know that some of those involved are PSSI people.”

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