KUALA LUMPUR, July 14, 2011 (AFP) - A plan to revive the footballing rivalry between Malaysia and Singapore could be undermined by corruption and match-fixing, a former top official warned Thursday.
Peter Velappan, Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) general secretary until 2007, hailed Singapore's return to the Malaysia Cup from next year after a near two decade absence, but warned bookmakers may benefit as well as fans.
"It was the magic moments of Malaysian football when Singapore was playing in the Malaysian league. In football you need rivalry. I welcome the decision.
"But right now ASEAN football in particular is really destroyed by match-fixing, corruption and bookies and this is across all levels -- from players, club officials, coaches and referees," Velappan told AFP.
Under an agreement signed Tuesday between the two countries' football governing bodies, a Singapore side of mainly under-23 national players will compete in the annual tournament from 2012.
Their inclusion raises the prospect of thousands of fans packing stadiums to see Malaysia take on the city-state -- which separated from its neighbour in 1965.
But Velappan, who led the AFC for 30 years, said a "football mafia" based in Southeast Asian countries is well entrenched and needs tough government, police and club action to stamp out its influence -- worth "billions of dollars".
"Unless there is a political effort to eliminate the scourge, we can't improve football.
"While this (initiative) is a good idea, there is another potent force killing all the initiatives; bribery, match-fixing and corruption. Now it is really rampant."
His remarks come after a Singaporean and two Malaysian coaches were charged in June with match-fixing in connection with a national football tournament.
FIFA has singled out Malaysia and Singapore as centers of match-fixing.
Singapore last took part in the annual Malaysia Cup in 1994, but was excluded from the tournament because of political reasons and fears over and corruption.
Teams in China and Thailand have also been linked to match-fixing, tarnishing the reputation of the game in the region.