(Reuters) - Fearful footballers in Asia need better protection, education and a trusting environment before they can aid whistleblowing against match-fixing, the regional head of world player union FIFPro told Reuters.
With soccer still recovering from the European police revelations this month that a Singapore-based syndicate directed match-fixing for at least 380 soccer games in Europe, powerbrokers met in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday for a two-day conference on the issue.
Jointly hosted by INTERPOL and the Asian Football Confederation, whose leader Zhang Jilong described match-fixing as a cancer that has touched every continent, the conference was aimed at improving knowledge and understanding of the issues and identifying good practices to tackle it.
FIFPro Asian chairman Brendan Schwab, a speaker at the conference, told Reuters players were pawns used by organised crime syndicates and needed protection.
"We have still got a long, long, long way to go in addressing the fears players have in Asia," Schwab said in a telephone interview.
"Unless players fully understand their rights and obligations then they are not going to be in a position to report suspicious behaviour or even approaches to be involved in fixing matches.
"We have got players in Asia that are fearful of even forming a players' association or reporting contractual breaches so that level of fear needs to be addressed."
While the revelations of the European police investigation rippled around the world, the least surprised corner was Asia, where match-fixing has been long identified as a problem with recent issues in South Korea, Malaysia and China.
Schwab, an Australian who was elected to the FIFPro board in 2008, said that the fearless criminals allegedly orchestrating the match-fixing posed a great concern for possible player confessions.
"You are dealing with organised crime who will take whatever measures are necessary to implement their plan.
"Players, if they are going to report instances, not only need someone to report it to who they trust, they also need to be protected and there need to be security arrangements around them.
"As you can imagine, these are all resource-intensive and rather sophisticated operations so sport needs to take it very, very seriously."
Schwab said he had been buoyed up after the opening-day talks in Malaysia and that he believed policing bodies and the sport's governors understood the issues the players had, accepting that banning players was not a solution.
"There was great awareness that the players have genuine problems in terms of having their rights respected and their contracts honoured and that, coupled with poor education and security measures, means they are a lot more corruptible than what they would otherwise be," he said.
"Those statements, they were only a conference, but they are certainly encouraging and there is a much more sophisticated approach being discussed here rather than a simple zero tolerance and 'let's try and impose sanctions on players'."
Schwab and his organisation have been heavily critical of the Indonesia Football Association who have been involved in a power struggle with a rival faction.
A Paraguayan player who had gone months unpaid died in debt to a hospital in Java in December after contracting a viral infection and being "practically abandoned" by his club, his wife said.
Further cases of unpaid players have come to light in the Southeast Asian country and Schwab said such instances were 'no doubt' playing into the hands of match fixers looking for players to help rig results.
The labour lawyer said that employing a four-point plan used in Australian sport was vital to preventing issues arising in the rest of Asia.
"If you don't respect the rights of your players you are not doing everything you can to eliminate the risks of match-fixing," he warned.
"A Football Association cannot seriously say it is concerned about match-fixing if it doesn't have a standard playing contract, a domestic dispute resolution system and it doesn't have sporting sanctions to ensure the players are paid on time, and they don't also have the necessary education programmes in place.
"Any Football Association that doesn't have those four messages is simply not doing what it can do to help reduce the risk of match-fixing."
Reporting by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by Clare Fallon