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Mystery calls were made to 3 clubs

New Delhi: Three I-League clubs were approached by international betting syndicates in an apparent effort to fix matches in the cash-rich league, in the last couple of years, All India Football Federation (AIFF) sources said on Monday.

“We had no clue about it till the Fifa-Interpol workshop on match-fixing was held in the capital last week,” a federation official told The Telegraph. “When the Fifa officials asked the clubs whether they were ever approached by betting people, at least three club representatives responded in the affirmative.”

The official said since it was a close door meeting, he was not in a position to reveal the names of the clubs, but hinted all three were from the western India. Mumbai FC, have already gone on record, saying they were approached by a Malaysian betting syndicate.

Sources said one representative, asked by Fifa officials, spoke at length about how his club was approached. First, the marketing manager of the club received a phone call from a person, who introduced himself as a Malaysian national and an independent event manager.

He wanted to arrange a tour of African nations for the club and assured all expenses would be taken care of by his company.

“The club representative told Fifa that he was surprised by the approach and wondered why a foreign event management company would be interested in promoting a rather unknown Indian club. The club decided to avoid the mysterious caller, as they found it extremely fishy,” the federation official revealed.

Two other clubs also admitted they were approached at different times, on some pretext or the other. Both decided not to take things forward, as they sensed it might lead to betting controversy.

Interestingly, none of the three clubs reported the matter to AIFF and revealed it only during the Fifa-Interpol workshop. All three said they did not take it too seriously. Indian football, they felt, could not be the target of international betting syndicates.

Fifa officials, however, advised the clubs that in future they should report such matters immediately. The officials explained that international betters have lots of interest in Indian football, despite its low Fifa ranking. At least 50 of the 125 odd worldwide online betting websites regularly place bets on Indian football, they said. The bets are placed not only on I-League matches, but also on local leagues in Manipur and Delhi.

Though online betting is legal in other countries, Fifa monitors them through their Early Warning System (EWS) technology and start enquiring whenever the betting patterns shows unnatural trends.

I-League chief executive officer Sunando Dhar said: “We came to know about these incidents only now. Till date, we have no system in place to take action against such misdeeds. Now that AIFF is planning to appoint an integrity officer, we would handle these things in a professional manner.”