22 from Laos, Cambodia get life bans for fixing
Twenty-two players and officials from Laos and Cambodia have been handed life bans in one of Asian football's biggest mass punishments for match-fixing.
The Asian Football Confederation said the action follows an investigation that started in 2014, and that it will seek to have the bans extended worldwide.
"The (AFC) Disciplinary Committee has issued a life ban from football-related activities to twenty-two individuals from Laos and Cambodia for involvement in the manipulation of matches involving the representative teams of Laos and the club side Lao Toyota FC," a statement said late on Wednesday.
"The AFC investigation into the manipulation of matches involving the representative teams of the Lao Football Federation commenced in 2014 and remains ongoing," it added.
Fifteen of those banned are current or former players of the Laos national side or Vientiane-based Lao Toyota FC, the AFC said. Details of the games involved were not released, but four of the players had been provisionally suspended during the AFC Solidarity Cup involving Laos in November.
"(The players') ongoing participation provided a direct threat to the integrity of the competition," the AFC said at the time, adding that the suspensions also related to "suspected manipulation of multiple matches committed by the representative teams of Laos since 2010".
Laos played three matches at the Solidarity Cup, beating Sri Lanka 2-1 and Mongolia 3-0, and losing 4-1 to Macau. Poorly paid Asian footballers and officials have long been vulnerable to advances from match-fixers seeking to manipulate games for betting purposes, giving rise to a long list of scandals. Among the largest was China banning 33 players and officials for life in 2013, following a three-year investigation into notorious corruption in its domestic leagues.
In 2007, two Vietnamese footballers were jailed and six others given suspended sentences for rigging an under-23 match against Myanmar at the 2005 Southeast Asian Games. Last year's AFC Champions League winners, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, have been banned from this year's competition over a match-fixing scandal relating to South Korea's K-League.