It is hard to regulate “lower-tier” amateur football competitions, the city’s football association chair told RTHK on Wednesday, one day after news of a match fixing scandal emerged.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) announced at a Tuesday press conference that it had arrested 23 people suspected to be involved in match fixing in the Hong Kong First Division League (First Division) during the 2022-2023 season.

Football players
23 people were arrested on Monday over a scandal of match fixing in local football competitions. Photo: Pexels.

Among those arrested were one coach and 11 players, while the others were suspected of running an illegal gambling business. The anti-corruption agency alleged that one football team manipulated the result upon receiving bribes, and also illegally bet on their own matches.

“The situation is very worrying and heart-breaking,” Kate Cheuk, principle investigator of ICAC said. She said that the players and coach allegedly received bribes of up to HK$10,000 for each match and had deliberately lost games afterwards.

The ICAC said the team lost, or drew, 18 of the 26 matches of the season.

Team of 70 years history suspected

The team at the centre of the scandal is believed to be Happy Valley Athletic Association (HVAA), local media reported citing anonymous sources. Players and ex-players of the HVAA were seen walking out of ICAC premises on Tuesday night.

The football club has a history of over 70 years dating back to the 1950s. It was first established by Hongkongers in Taiwan, and topped the First Division six times. However, they were embroiled in bribery scandals in 2010 and 2014.

Happy Valley Athletic Association - Soccer
The football team HVAA is suspected to involve in match fixing. Photo: HVAA/Facebook.

Pui Kwan-Kay, chair of the HVAA and the Football Association of Hong Kong, China, said that he felt saddened by the scandal and match fixing was “not ideal.” But he said he believed it “would not have much effect on the holistic development of Hong Kong football.”

“There are many teams and competitions who participate in the First, Second and Third Divisions – it is relatively hard to regulate,” he added.

Pui Kwan-Kay is chairman of the Football Association of Hong Kong and chairperson of the football club HVAA. Photo: Wikicommons.

First Division used to be the highest division until the launch of the Hong Kong Premier League in 2014.

Pui did not mention whether the team under investigation is HVAA.

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