Goan football, which was once a playground for some of the best football in India, has now hit its lowest of lows with the dark shadows of match-fixing hovering over its state league.
The Goa Pro League that once attracted large crowds in the 1980s to witness a highly-technical, attacking brand of football, has seen its giant clubs drop down in the Indian football pecking order in the last few years, and now its state league is facing allegations of corruption.
Six matches of the GPL have been identified as suspicious for possible match-fixing.
As the Goa Football Association, the All India Football Federation investigate the matter, here’s an explainer of the alleged match-fixing scandal.
In a letter to the AIFF integrity officer Javed Siraj in March, the Asian Football Confederation informed the Indian board about “suspicious betting patterns indicative of match manipulation” in six Goa Pro League matches held between October 16 and November 19 last year, PTI reported on August 3.
According to a report in The Times of India, London-based entity Sportsradar - a company that monitors betting odds and patterns worldwide through a Fraud Detection System informed the AFC of the suspicious activities in a few Goa Pro League matches.
The report from Sportsradar said there was “clear and overwhelming betting evidence that the course or result of the match was unduly influenced with a view to gaining betting profits”
The matches under the scanner were Dempo’s 4-0 win over Calangute Association, where there was heavy live betting on Calangute Association losing the match by at least three goals, and Sporting Clube de Goa’s 3-0 win over Panjim Footballers.
Local Goan team Guardian Angels were involved in four of those suspected matches: a 4-0 loss to Dempo, 1-2 defeat against FC Goa, a 1-0 win over Panjim Footballers and 4-0 defeat against Salgaocar.
“The betting evidence ultimately indicates that bettors held prior knowledge of Guardian Angel Sports Club losing the match by at least four goals,” the newspaper quoted an excerpt in the report about Guardian Angels’ 0-4 loss against Salgaocar.
Angels claimed they are innocent and asked for proof of any wrongdoings by the club.
“Does the AFC or AIFF have any proof of our players’ involvement? If yes, they should show it to us, rather than making any assumptions,” Jhoncy Fernandes told The Times of India.
However, Alirio Lobo, the president of Calangute Association revealed that he had felt during the season that something suspicious was happening in the competition last year.
The AIFF notified the GFA about the suspicions on March 3 through a letter. Three days later, the GFA responded by saying they were conducting an investigation on the matter.
The GFA caught hold of one person – Gabriel Fernandes – who was giving ball-by-ball commentary of Goa League matches but said match-fixing could not be proved due to a lack of evidence, PTI reported.
In his reply to the AIFF letter, Lopes said the suspected person carried an I-Card issued by the AIFF as the valid reporter of Genius Group.
“It was on 08.03.2020 at Nehru Stadium, Fotorda, Margao that our vice-president, Mr. Anthony Pongo brought to the notice of GFA Secretary that there was one person in the stadium’’s west zone who was constantly on mobile, relaying the commentary of the Hero I-League match between Churchill Brothers vs (Gokulam) Kerala FC,” Lopes said in his reply.
“...since the Genius Group is allegedly linked to Bet 365, the possibilities of online betting pretty is high, play by play. However, we have no proof or evidence in the matter.
“... the Genius Group’’s by AIFF needs to be seriously looked into.”
Lopes said the “serious matter” was immediately brought to the notice of the match commissioner of the said I-League game.
“He (Match Commissioner) replied that he could not intervene and that it be reported to the AIFF which was done,” the GFA secretary said.
“Further, our investigations with our Duler stadium manager, Mr. Anthony Lobo revealed that the same person was also attending Goa Professional League matches at Duler Stadium. He would purchase a ticket to enter the stadium and sit in the spectators’’ gallery and relay the match proceedings.”
Lopes revealed that the GFA had received no reply from the AIFF after March 9.
“GFA was prompt to act. After March 9, I have got no reply from AIFF. So, I feel, I have done the correct investigation. More than this, I could not do. I cannot have a complete investigation on my own,” Lopes had told The Times of India.
“There is no evidence with us on match-fixing. The AIFF has not shared with us. For them to come to a conclusion that there are suspicious matches, you have to specify,” he added.
However, the AIFF on Tuesday asked the GFA to expedite the probe into the match-fixing scandal as the Siraj wasn’t satisfied with the investigation conducted by the GFA.
On Tuesday, Lopez said that contracts of two players from a certain football club were terminated on alleged suspicion.
The silence of both bodies and also the relative non-action till the story came out in The Times of India on Monday is a bit startling considering the problem was brought to light to the AIFF by the AFC in March. With no certainty over the scandal yet, Goal football will have to face scrutiny for some time to come.
(With PTI inputs)