HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam’s soccer federation has banned nine players for life for fixing an Asian club match, part of efforts to win back dwindling confidence of fans and rebuild a reputation tarnished by bribery scandals.
The former Vissai Ninh Binh players received jail terms of up to 30 months in August for rigging an away match against Malaysia’s Kelantan this year in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup.
The scandal was one of many in recent years in a country notorious for illicit gambling and with one of the world’s worst track records for match-fixing. It led to Vissai Ninh Binh’s withdrawal from the Vietnamese top flight amid fears league games could also have been fixed.
Such measures are rare in Vietnam, which routinely hands down harsh penalties to criminals but has given relatively lenient punishments for throwing games.
The Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) announced the bans on Thursday. It has been working closely with police to investigate suspicious activities and has previously suggested legalising small-stakes betting to curb the problem.
The VFF said in August it was “resolutely fighting with negatives in football to regain the confidence of the country’s fans.”
Dinh Khai, a prominent local soccer pundit, described the bans as a good first step, showing the sport’s bosses were sending a clear message to players to shun bribes.
“They want to awaken the players to purify Vietnamese football,” Khai told Reuters.
“Vietnamese football is now very poor within the region... The results will always be wrong as long as negativity and match-fixing still exist.”
Gambling is illegal, but rife in Vietnam, with huge sums changing hands and players are easy targets for underground betting syndicates. Vietnamese police said they tracked tens of millions of dollars in online betting daily during this year’s World Cup.
In November, the AFC extended the VFF’s suspension of six players from V-League club Dong Nai pending a police probe into alleged match-fixing during a fixture in July and other games.
Author and sports columnist Nguyen Luu said he supported bans in general but punishments should be proportional to a player’s level of involvement.
“There are some who led, others were followers, some were dragged along,” he said.
“It’s a very good decision as this stain is hurting and sabotaging soccer... But I don’t believe all nine players deserved that level of punishment.”
Editing by Martin Petty and Ed Osmond