Match-fixing concerns as OFA changes Omantel League rule

The Oman Football Association (OFA) has said that concerns of match-fixing besides technical development and cost-cutting

In the 2017-18 Omantel League has led to the drastic move of introducing a new rule for promotion and relegation of clubs in the top-flight league.

Though so far there has been no cases of match-fixing involving money and clubs, OFA is set to introduce the new rule which states the bottom-three ranked teams of the 14 top-tier clubs will be directly relegated to the first division.

The top-three teams in the first division will earn direct promotion to the Omantel League which kicks off on September 13.

The move to directly relegate three teams has not gone down well with the majority of clubs in the Omantel League. Despite the initial reluctance to accept the change, OFA and the clubs have agreed as the new season’s calendar was released on Monday night.

OFA has now renamed the Omantel Professional League as Omantel League from the coming season.

Speaking to Muscat Daily , Said Othman al Balushi, the general secretary and CEO of OFA, said, “Changes are good for the development of football and the new promotion/relegation rule has been devised to curb chances of match-fixing, spur technical development and also cut costs of the first division club. Currently, it has to wait for a month to learn about its top-flight rival for the promotion playoff.”

The Oman first division league tends to finish a month before the Omantel League.

Balushi admitted that concerns about match-fixing were genuine but ruled out money being involved. “I do not think match-fixing in Oman has anything to do with money. Yes, there may be instances when relations between clubs and its presidents may lead to some influence on a match but we have yet to come across any such incidents in our domestic league.”

However, there were media reports earlier this year that Mohammed al Balushi, then Rustaq Club coach, had spoken about an incident where in he alleged that his ‘players threw the match away on purpose and accused them of match-fixing’.

When the OFA sought evidence on his allegations, the coach refused to furnish them. As a result the coach was punished by the federation.

Though the OFA general secretary denied that the new move was anything to do with those allegations, he said, “The move of promotion/relegation of three teams directly will minimise chances of match-fixing. We also think that it will help improve the technical level of the game and spare the third-ranked first division team cost to prepare for an extra month as it has to wait for the conclusion of the top-flight league to know its opponent for the playoff.”

However, the majority of Omantel League clubs strongly opposed the move with 13 out of the 14 clubs raising objections before agreeing to the release of the calendar.

Ahmed al Habsi of Mudhaibi Club, which is making its debut in the top-flight league in the coming season, said, “Match-fixing does not involve money in Oman for sure. It is only at times that relations between clubs that may influence a result where one club is not affected by the outcome of a result.

“I do not think match-fixing can be reduced by this new promotion/relegation rule. Rather it would increase chances of fixing as stakes will be high for teams to avoid direct relegation. It is unfair to have the third-ranked first division team get direct promotion as it would have played much lesser games than the top-flight club.”

Habsi, a former chairman of OFA competitions committee, added, “The monetary losses for Omantel League clubs are huge as investments are much higher than first division clubs.”

But Balushi said it was part of OFA’s effort to bring in more transparency and it would soon announce an ethics and integrity committee.

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