All eyes on referees in Vietnamese football
Repeated scandals in European and Asian football have raised a ruckus in football of late, and Viet Nam’s league seems to be no exception. Thuy Ha reports.
Successive scandals regarding corruption amongst referees have rocked both European and Asian football recently, and Viet Nam has not escaped this scourge of the sport.
German referee Robert Hoyzer’s admission that he fixed four Bundesliga matches has damaged the league’s image, while in Asia accusations of corruption amongst officials marred the recent Asian Cup and the continent’s World Cup qualifying games.
In Viet Nam, the problem is becoming so serious that the credibility of the V-League and First Division is being called into question following the suspension of several officials.
The crisis began when V-League referee Luong Trung Viet was accused of involvement in a major match-fixing ring, following the discovery of text messages exchanged with his colleague Pham Huu Loc implicating him in the network. The charges prompted several referees in the league to speak out, and the ensuing revelations suggested that Viet played only a minor role in what appeared to be a large-scale and well-organised operation. Loc was suspended several weeks later, and since then the league has seen seven more referees and five assistants debarred for match-fixing.
FIFA-accredited referee Loc came under suspicion for his performance in a 16th-round match which saw second-placed Binh Duong lose away to defending champions Hoang Anh Gia Lai. Several dubious decisions went the way of the home side, as Loc allowed a goal clearly scored by handball and denied the away side a clear-cut penalty. The loss was a major blow to Binh Duong’s hopes of claiming their first V-League title, as they failed to close the gap with league leaders Ñong Tam Bricks-Long An in what was then a two-horse race.
Binh Duong filed a complaint regarding Loc’s refereeing to the V-League organisation board, but the resulting suspension of the official for an undisclosed time was of little consolation to the side as the result was not annulled, and their title challenge is now over after Long An clinched the league last Saturday.
The frequency of match-fixing scandals in Vietnamese football has been on the rise for the past few years, and this season in particular has seen an alarming rise in the number of suspensions. The main cause of the phenomenon is thought to be the low wages paid to officials – V-League referees earn around VNÑ3.2 million (US$200) per month, compared to the average VNÑ8 million paid to players – most of whom have occupations aside from refereeing to supplement their income. In light of their modest salaries, it is unsurprising that the bribes of up to VNÑ60 million reportedly paid to referees who agree to throw matches prove too tempting to resist.
Seven referees and five assistants of Viet Nam’s total 150 have been accredited by the world governing body FIFA, but at least three of the officials have been suspended on charges of corruption.
“The biggest problem in Vietnamese football is that FIFA-accredited referees, although they receive more respect than others, are not any more highly-paid,” said one referee. “That makes it hard to stop them being tempted to fix matches.”
The problem is not helped by the fact that, as FIFA president Sepp Blatter puts it, “there is plenty of money in football,” causing resentment and envy amongst officials who see players and managers around them earning astronomical wages.
Blatter argues that the provision of professional salaries for referees would significantly reduce the frequency of match fixing, citing the case of Robert Hoyzer, who accepted money from Croatian gamblers.
“I’m not saying that a professional referee would never be tempted, but when someone is a professional it’s more difficult to corrupt them,” said Blatter.
One response to Viet Nam’s slipping refereeing standards suggested by the VFF is the hiring of foreign referees to manage V-League and First Division games, avoiding the problem of partiality towards particular teams.
Head of the V-League’s organisation committee Duong Nghiep Khoi has also said the board will be stricter in its selection and assignment of referees for the remainder of the season, which ends early next month, while next season the VFF intends to begin implementing a long-term plan to combine youth and experience in their refereeing selections in a bid to improve standards.
“It will be a difficult time for new referees next season, as the inexperience of young referees will result in mistakes which may be unfairly blamed on match fixing, but we will do our best to limit such errors and we are hopeful the officials will develop as a corruption-free generation,” said Khoi.
“We believe that young referees will do well if we put our trust in them and give them a chance to prove their abilities.” – VNS
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