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George Owino: "Players need to be educated about match-fixing"

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I played my first game for the Harambee Stars [Kenyan national team] in 2005, when I was called up for the World Cup qualifier against Guinea in Conakry. I came on in the second half. We lost 1-0, but it is still a great memory to play the first game for your country.  

Some time after playing my first game for the national side, I was contacted on Facebook by Wilson Perumal. He told me that he was an agent and was trying to help me. At the time the salary that I was earning was very little and the conditions were also not good. Often the money would not be paid on time. So I had dreams of going to play overseas. I thought it would be good for my family if I managed that. So I started communicating with him.  

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After we had been communicating for a while, he asked me if I could do the business. With that, he meant that I would fix international matches I was playing with the Harambee Stars. He said I should concede penalties and give away goals. I was shocked. He also asked me if I could find other players to do that, but I told him that I did not think I could find other players. I think I did not report it at the time because I was so shocked. We kept on writing to each other and once – I think it was just once – we met.  

At some stage our correspondence was intercepted and FIFA launched an investigation. In 2015, I met with somebody from FIFA in a hotel in Nairobi, who asked me about match-fixing. Then I did not hear anything else until January 2019, when I was getting ready to travel with my club Mathare United to an away game. When I woke up, I saw that there had been a lot of missed calls and messages and I was told that I would not be travelling with the team. The club told me that I would not play for them again and that I had been banned for match-fixing.   

I wanted to appeal the decision. I was told that I first had to appeal to FIFA and if I was then not satisfied with the result, I could appeal to CAS. My lawyer told me it would be very expensive. I would pay at least 2,000 dollars. At the time I was earning 400 dollars and even that was not being paid on time. Often what I received would not be the full amount. The best I could be hoping for, was that the ban would be reduced. I was also nearing the end of my playing days, so I decided that I would see out the ban and rather use the money to invest in my future. Since then, I have been out of football. I have not had any contact with my club and not many of my former teammates have been in touch. But I have spoken to some of them. I have some small businesses, they are helping me get by.   

I think not enough is being done to educate players about the dangers of match-fixing. They need to be told about it. I have spoken to some players, but these warnings need to take place on a much bigger scale. Players have to be encouraged to report any attempts to get them involved in such things. I think had I known more about it, I would not have communicated with Wilson Perumal.” 

“It would have helped me a lot had the Red Button app existed when I was approached”

FIFPRO and its member unions are distributing the Red Button smartphone app which allows professional footballers to safely report match-fixing approaches. Kenyan player association (KEFWA) also distributed the Red Button app to its members.

“It would have helped me a lot had the Red Button app existed when I was approached. It would have been much easier for me to report the approach. It would also have helped me understand better what was going on. I think it will help a lot of players from falling for the vice of match-fixing and therefore it will be important in the fight against match-fixing. I think it will be very beneficial for all players. 

There is also another thing that contributes to match-fixing. Players in many places, including Africa, are not really looked after. The facilities are very poor, in Kenya it was mainly when I played for the national team that they were good. And the payment is not enough for a player with a family. Football is a short career, so you have to make extra money to get started with something for the time after football.   

I would warn all players to be careful and to stay away from people who promise things but really want something very different.