Breaking Stories and the Singapore Media

To start – I broke the story. I have been stating publicly since September 2008 that there is a group of Asian based match-fixers who travel the world arranging football matches with local criminals.

For regular readers of this blog or my book The Fix, this is obvious. But in a week filled with vindication and support after the Europol press conference, there is a strain in the media of a very small number of journalists who are claiming that they were the people to break the story of Asian criminals fixing matches around the world.

It is tiresome. The original investigation was dangerous. The shepherding of the book through copious legal readings was onerous. The media criticism when The Fix came out was difficult.

After I broke the story, there have been lots of other journalists who have done excellent work. However, none of the people who now claim to have broken the story was there for any of those steps. To try to take credit, now that the story has been validated, is neither fair nor honourable.

Far, far more importantly – their claims are also untruthful. And in making these false statements they seriously skew the story and help hide many key issues.

For example, there is an underlying question that no one has examined. How was it possible that an independent Canadian journalist working as a doctoral student at the University of Oxford was able to break one of the most important sports stories of our generation? I was, after all, working mostly in Singapore. Why did the local journalists not break this story? Why was an outsider, with almost no resources, able to come in and get the story?

It seems like a head-scratcher. Singaporean journalists (and I am speaking of Singaporeans, not international journalists who live there) speak far better Hakka Chinese or Tamil than me: they work for big media conglomerates: it is their patch, they should have lots of local contacts – so why did it take an outsider to beat them to their own story?

In fact, why are most of the Singaporean media (there are some honourable exceptions) still publishing complete nonsense when it comes to this story: “the reputation of Singapore tarnished”, “the accusations based on the words of convicted match-fixer”, “Singapore police helping Interpol” – yaddah-yaddah, yaddah-yaddee, more government sponsored BS.

The clue comes in the treatment of the two Malaysian journalists mostly responsible for the breaking of the Kelong scandal in 1994: Johnson Fernandez and Lazarus Rokk. They ended up with replica bullets being placed on their desks. Note – these fake bullets were not sent to them in the mail or at their houses, but they showed up on their desks at work. In other words, someone inside their own organization was presumably connected with the fixers.

This is the true situation in Asia. The networks of sports corruption run very deep.

It is the same for Singaporean journalists. I did not meet a single journalist who did not know what was going on. You cannot go for a drink with them without the long list of the ‘who-is-who’ of Singaporean sports personalities being metaphorically taken out and fixing allegations against each of them being discussed. Former national team players, influential coaches and prominent club owners are all rumoured to be on the fix. I do not know the truth of the specific stories, but if a tenth of them were true, Singapore would have a huge problem.

This is another strong reason why we have seen the Singaporean establishment dig its heels in and refuse to arrest one of their prominent alleged fixers. Singapore is like 17th century Salem, Massachusetts meets 21st century Las Vegas, Nevada: a veneer of public Puritanism trying to hide a gambling obsession.

If Dan Tan were immediately arrested and extradited to a neutral country, he may be able to reveal a number of prominent people both inside and outside the Singaporean sports world who worked with the fixers. If Dan Tan were immediately arrested he would expose this seamy nexus that is purported to exist inside Singaporean society. However, until Dan Tan is arrested, stand-by for more government-sponsored nonsense from the Singaporean media and more self-aggrandizing claims from too-late journalists.

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