‘Corruption’ close to home

The dramatic Sydney arrests of three "match-fixing" footballers made for arresting viewing.

In one case, at least 10 helmeted police armed with torches burst into a house crying "police search warrant".

While Sydney is close to New Zealand anyway, the moves were more striking because two of the players had close links to this country and its professional A League team the Phoenix. One is a current All White New Zealand representative.

The alleged senior culprit, Macarthur FC captain Ulises Davila (33), once signed for Chelsea. He joined the Phoenix in 2019 for two years, being a popular and successful striker.

He then went to southwest Sydney club the Macarthur Bulls as captain.

He won much sympathy when his wife died two years ago. Their son was only 2 at the time.

It is alleged Davila was taking instructions from a South American "controller" to organise for yellow cards to ensue during particular matches. Money would be made through betting.

The games were in November and December last year. Allegedly, failed attempts were made last month and this month in an A League elimination final.

Davila is facing two counts of "engaging in conduct that corrupts a betting outcome of an event" and two counts of "facilitating conduct that corrupts a betting outcome of an event". The other two players face two of the same engaging in corrupt conduct charges. A fourth player was expected to be arrested and charged.

Supposedly, Davila passed on $A10,000 each for the players to make sure they committed yellow-card fouls.

The others in the initial arrests were hardly young players easily influenced. Kearyn Baccus is 32 and Clayton Lewis is 27. Lewis, from a Wellington footballing family, played 69 times for the Phoenix and has 22 New Zealand appearances.

Australasian football is shocked and bewildered. It is not just the apparent greed, dishonour and abuse of trust but also what seems like dumb actions.

The arrests have also overshadowed the A League finals and given Australian football another jolt of bad publicity.

Detective Superintendent Peter Faux, Organised Crime Squad Commander (left) together with...
Detective Superintendent Peter Faux, Organised Crime Squad Commander (left) together with Assistant Commissioner Michael Fitzgerald, State Crime Commander address a press conference at the NSW Police Headquarters, Parramatta on May 17 following the arrest of three A-League football players after an investigation by the Organised Crime Squad into alleged betting corruption under Strike Force Beaconview. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Suspicious betting was uncovered by a multi-agency team, including the United Kingdom Gambling Commission. Sports Integrity Australia then worked with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission on the investigation.

It hardly seems surprising that eyebrows would be raised when large amounts of money were bet overseas on the A-League. And then, it would seem, some of these players put their careers and reputations on the line for the equivalent of only a few pieces of silver.

They might have thought that receiving a yellow card did not really affect the outcome of a match. But such behaviour betrays themselves, their families and their sport.

Questions immediately arise about what else might be going on. Who would know?

After all, corruption is common around the world and across various sports.

Fifa itself, as football’s governing body, is widely considered to be corrupt at the top level and via its delegates.

The awarding of World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar remains dubious.

New Zealand’s Charlie Dempsey abstained from a crucial Fifa vote which saw the Cup for 2006 being awarded to Germany and not South Africa.

He cited "intolerable pressure" from German and South African supporters and of the attempts to bribe him.

New Zealanders, from a country consistently ranked in the top two or three least corrupt countries in the world, can become complacent and high and mighty about sporting maleficence.

It does not, however, pay to be arrogant. New Zealand cricketer Lou Vincent admitted match-fixing and, in May last year, two-time Olympic runner Zane Robertson was banned for eight years for doping and trying to cover it up.

On a wider scale, corrupt practices have become apparent in Immigration and Corrections and other areas.

There are growing fears, also, about the dangers of political influence and favours.

The Sydney arrests can be a reminder of how tempting corruption would seem to be.

We require continued awareness of these dangers both in sport and in society generally.

Corruption is never far away.