Lao soccer authorities revealed last week that 45 of the Southeast Asian country’s players have been banned for life by FIFA for match fixing in recent years, condemning the footballers for putting themselves over the nation.
Lao Football Federation General Secretary Kanya Keomany told a news conference Jan. 7 that FIFA, the world soccer governing body, banned the 45 male players for their involvement with match fixing schemes.
“This match fixing practice has been directly affecting the selection of our soccer players for our national team for future regional and international competitions,” she said, without mentioning names or specific dates.
“The federation has been consistently educating our athletes to be well disciplined especially before each international competition, but obviously, these players did not heed our advice. They chose their personal interest over the country’s,” the federation’s vice-president Khampheng Vongkhanti told the news conference.
“Their actions have ruined their own reputation and the country’s,” he added.
The announcement came on the heels of last month’s ASEAN Cup, where the Lao team lost all four of its matches, scoring only one goal,
“The federation received a lot of complaints from soccer fans… who said that the Lao male national soccer team competed poorly in the ASEAN Football Federation Championship in December last year,” a former official of the Lao Sports Department told RFA’s Lao Service.
A federation official, who requested anonymity for professional reasons, confirmed the 45 life bans to RFA, saying, “This number includes the players who were banned in 2020. The Lao Football Federation will not reveal the identities of any of these players.”
In 2020 three Lao footballers–Khampheng Sayavutthi, Lembo Saysana, and goalkeeper Thipphonexay Inthavongsa–were banned from the sport when they were found guilty of conspiring to manipulate the score of an October 2017 match against Hong Kong. Laos lost that match 0-4.
Additionally, FIFA in 2017 issued lifetime bans to 22 Lao and Cambodian players and officials who were affiliated with the national team or Lao Toyota FC, including 15 players who had played for the club or were at that time on the active roster.
Laos was banned from the 2018 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup as a result.
Lao soccer fans told RFA that local players can be easily tempted because they are not well paid.
“Some of the soccer players accept bribes because they don’t get enough financial support from the federation. Our players don’t earn as much compared to those from other countries,” a soccer fan from the capital Vientiane told RFA Monday.
“They do get paid, but the cost of living in Laos is high. If someone offered them a large sum of money, they’d take it and fix the match,” the fan said.
The fan noted that in the announcement, the Lao Football Federation did not identify any of the people who bribed the players, but said it might be gamblers who give money to players, especially to goalkeepers, to allow the opponent to score a specific number of goals.
“I feel bad for the players,” another fan told RFA.
“We don’t know all the details yet. I’ve heard the news, but the upper levels are not revealing all the details,” the second fan said.
The guilty players will not be severely punished, a former official of the Lao Sports Department told RFA.
“They did it for their personal financial gain. Their gain is much higher than what they get from the government,” the official said.
“They won’t be jailed. They may just be banned for life,” said the official.
Current FIFA rankings place Laos at 187th in the world, 41st in the AFC.
RFA attempted to contact FIFA to verify the bans but received no answer as of Monday evening.
Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.