Geneva: Investigations into football match-fixing are revealing that betting fraud worth millions of dollars is more widespread than previously feared.
Information has emerged in Finland where the delayed league season starts Friday without three-time champion Tampere, which was suspended last month for links to suspected fixers from Singapore.
Hours before kick off, a Finnish court has heard two AC Oulu players admit they took €50,000 ($72,500) in bribes to help fix a match last season. Zambian brothers Donewell and Dominic Yobe confessed to playing "below their normal level."
The widening Finnish probe appears to confirm that fixers also organize international friendly matches purely for betting scams, and that FIFA's Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups have been targeted.
"The threat from match-fixing to the integrity of the global game is significant," FIFA head of security Chris Eaton told the British Daily Telegraph newspaper. "That is enough to make me concerned that we need to put preventive measures in place."
FIFA has stepped up its response in recent weeks after being criticized for lagging behind European authority UEFA in acknowledging the problem.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble will meet on Monday in Zurich before announcing measures to stop corrupt matches and betting.
At its Congress on June 1, FIFA will assume new powers to regulate international matches involving national and club teams, and veto appointments of unsuitable referees.
A turning point in football's fight against fixers was a notorious double-header of friendlies played Feb. 9 in neutral Antalya, Turkey.
Latvia beat Bolivia 2-1 and Estonia and Bulgaria played out a 2-2 draw with all seven goals scored from penalties. Fixers cashed in bets on more than three goals per game being scored, plus in-game wagers on live online betting sites.
FIFA is preparing disciplinary cases for six low-ranked match officials from Hungary and Bosnia it charged with involvement in the Turkey scam. They face life bans.
A Singaporean businessman, Anthony Santia Raj, has not been traced after organizing the games which had meager television rights or ticket sales.
Last September, FIFA said it couldn't formally investigate a friendly between Bahrain and a fake Togo national team because neither federation complained.
That match was allegedly organized by another Singaporean, Wilson Raj Perumal, now in custody in Finland.
Perumal was arrested in February on suspicion of having false identification papers, and is now being questioned about match-fixing in Finland and abroad.
"Interviews with those involved have told us that fixers can spend upwards of $300,000 to stage a friendly international and they do that with the expectation of a significant profit margin," FIFA's Eaton told the Telegraph. "Our information is that we are talking about tens of millions of dollars in profit from each successful fix."
FIFA is also examining possible attempts to fix a Jordan vs. Kuwait match played in March in the United Arab Emirates, where Iraq and North Korea were also invited to a four-team tournament.
As football's world governing body, FIFA is responsible for international football though its existing rules for friendlies have been exposed as too loose.
FIFA's biggest asset, the World Cup, was also identified as a target for match-fixing in an ongoing criminal trial in Bochum, Germany.
The reputed head of a fixing syndicate, Croatian Ante Sapina, said he helped bribe the referee of a September 2009 qualifying match between Liechenstein and Finland.
Sapina was convicted in a 2005 scandal involving German referee Robert Hoyzer, and returned to fix matches in at least a dozen European countries.
In Finland, the top division eventually began this week under a cloud, with nine Rovaniemen Palloseura players being investigated for match-fixing last year.
Tampere was kicked out after officials admitted accepting €300,000 from a Singaporean company but were unable to explain why they took the money. They said they tried to return the money but could not trace the company.