Henrik Manninen explains how a raft of match-fixing allegations in the far north of Europre has swiftly ended an international experiment
"If I was wearing my cap the bet would be on, and if I took the cap off, there would be no business," said Wilson Raj Perumal on his chosen method for catching the attention of players during a Finnish league cup game between Rovaniemen Palloseura (RoPS) and Jaro played on February 20 this year.
After winning promotion back to the top division, the Veikkausliiga, last autumn, things seemed to be on the up for the Lapland side RoPS and their squad of predominantly foreign players (see WSC 283). The detention of the Singaporean national Perumal, at Helsinki airport in February, changed all that. He tried to leave the country with fake travel documents, which prompted an investigation into his background. This revealed that he was wanted by the Singaporean authorities and linked with several match-fixing cases around the world.
At the end of July the Lapland District Court sentenced Perumal to two years in jail for his involvement in arranging football results in Finland, centering on RoPS fixtures between 2008 to 2011. In connection with this, seven Zambian and two Georgian footballers, all due to be members of the RoPS squad this season, were also convicted with suspended sentences ranging from six to 20 months.
This followed court rulings earlier this year which saw two Zambian brothers, then playing for AC Oulu in the Veikkausliiga, being given seven-month suspended sentences for match-fixing. In addition, it emerged that Tampere United, three-time national champions in the past decade, had accepted €300,000 (£265,000), around 30 per cent of the club's annual budget, from a Singaporean company but were unable to explain why.
Tampere United were suspended for the season and AC Oulu's financial problems led to demotion but RoPS managed to keep their place in the top tier after the club's management argued their innocence while sacking the nine accused players. "The club itself hasn't done anything wrong. The things we can be blamed for are stupidity and a wrong kind of transfer policy," said chairman Risto Niva.
RoPS' dealing in foreign players has been well documented in Finland over the years. A relative lack of local players and the club's uninviting location, near the Arctic Circle, forced RoPS to increasingly turn to overseas imports. A Zambian link-up dating back to 1994 was strengthened through the success of striker Zeddy Saileti, who played for the club for 16 years and made 381 appearances. Saileti has since worked as a coach in his native Zambia, where he also ran a RoPS youth academy. He was responsible for sending the seven sentenced Zambian players to Rovaniemi.
But the club lost their way as a myriad of players from around the world were signed as a quick fix to keep RoPS in the top division, with Niva recently admitting that he knew little of what had been going on in between games in the apartment block in central Rovaniemi where the foreign players were housed together. "There were so many of them and as the team had three different head coaches during that time, nobody noticed anything."
The recent convictions seem to have killed off the Zambian link as the club have opted for a wholesale shift in their transfer policy. "We will sign Finnish players, but first of all players from Lapland," said new RoPS managing director Antti Hietakangas, as he stepped into his new role before the start of the season. If something positive has come out of the match-fixing revelations it is that the football community in Lapland seems to have been brought closer together. One example is the recent player exchange agreement set up between RoPS and their third division local rivals FC Santa Claus (that's really their name).
As the two former RoPS players from Georgia have already been allowed to resume their careers back home, Perunmal and the seven Zambians are now expected to appeal against their sentences. Previous court proceedings established that Perumal was connected to only seven of the 24 allegedly rigged matches involving RoPS. Prosecutors have also claimed that three other match-fixers, not yet named, were also implicated.
While RoPS' quickly assembled squad of predominantly Finnish players have found goals hard to come by in their fight for survival at the bottom of the Veikkausliiga this season, their supporters are bracing themselves for more match-fixing revelations.
From WSC 296 October 2011