05 December 2015

Nepali fans cheated by match-fixers

Nepali football fans in Malaysia
I was at the Shah Alam Stadium in Selangor, Malaysia in October of 2008 to watch the Nepal - Sierra Leone match in the Merdeka Cup. At the time I was an Asian Football Confederation staff member based in Kuala Lumpur. There were another 800-1,000 Nepali fans at the game as well,  most of them laborers working in Malaysia.

Shah Alam Stadium is not the most convenient stadium to get to. About 40 minutes or so from Kuala Lumpur, it is not very accessible by mass transport. A taxi ride there costs around $25-30 from the city center. If you consider ticket, food and opportunity costs, for a Nepali laborer earning between $200-$300 a month, making a trip to watch that game was a considerable investment.

Life in Malaysia can be tough for Nepali laborers. Many have to deal with less than ideal working conditions including hazardous work places, long hours, low pay and years without seeing their family. As a result, alcoholism and drug abuse are quite common. According to the Nepal Embassy approximately 1 Nepali laborer dies everyday in Malaysia (between 300-400 a year).  Many of the deaths are a result of substance abuse and suicide.

A chance to watch Nepal's national team  was certainly an investment for the laborers, but it was also a great reprieve - a chance to escape their daily ordeal and for 2 hours freely, proudly and passionately wave their national flag and support their heroes.

Unfortunately, if we are to believe notorious match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal's memoirs Kelong Kings, and the recent arrests of 5 Nepali players on the grounds of match-fixing by Nepal Police and subsequent lifetime bans by the AFC would suggest that there is no reason to dismiss his accounts, the  heroes the laborers went to see were actually villains.

Perumal, in great detail, claims in his book that he had paid the Nepal team to lose the match against Sierra Leone U-20 team. Despite facing a youth team of a very weak African footballing nation and being a man up for the majority of the game, due to a Sierra Leone player receiving a red card, Nepal gave-up two late goals, which Perumal says were deliberately conceded, and lost the match 1-3.

The match-fixing Nepali players got paid. The loyal Nepali fans were defrauded. The time, hard earned money, and commitment of the laborers all wasted on what was essentially a bogus match.

The laborers were just one group of loyal Nepali fans that were cheated by the match-fixers. Also hoodwinked were the professionals in America who wake-up in the early hours of the morning to watch the Nepal national team play on a shitty Internet stream, the thousands of students in Delhi and Dhaka that skip classes and go to the stadium with their faces painted red, white and blue, the freelance journalists that fly to the corners of Asia to provide live commentary of Nepal matches to fans across the globe, and of course the die-hards that wait on line for hours and pay thousands to get into Dasharath Rangashala.

Some have expressed their sympathies towards the match-fixing players arguing among other things that they were neglected by ANFA, needed to take care of their families, and are only a product of a very corrupt society where politicians get away with murder, literally and figuratively. While that might be true, being poor does not give anyone the right to rob a bank. My own sympathies - they go out to the millions of passionate Nepali football fans around the world who've been duped for years.