Baseball and basketball officials on Tuesday were scrambling to find evidence of match-fixing attempts in their professional leagues, following recent testimony by a gambling broker, who has been arrested for an alleged connection with volleyball match fixing, that other leagues also had match-rigging issues.
Prosecutors in Daegu, who are investigating a snowballing match-fixing scandal in the top pro volleyball circuit called V-League, have expanded their probe into baseball and basketball.
According to prosecutors, the arrested broker, surnamed Kim, said on Monday he heard about match-fixing schemes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) and the Korean Basketball League (KBL) games, from another broker surnamed Kang.
Kim has already been indicted for his role in football match fixing last year and received a four-year sentence in his first trial, prosecutors said. The broker named KBO ball clubs and active pitchers in his testimony, they added.
Baseball, basketball, football and volleyball are the country's four major professional sports. Football's K-League was rocked by its first match-fixing controversy last year, with dozens of active and former players indicted or found guilty. The V-League's first scandal emerged earlier this month and four active players have received lifetime bans from the sport for their alleged roles.
The KBO and the KBL, which have never dealt with match-fixing allegations, reacted with surprise on Tuesday.
"We will check with individual clubs to see how, if any, match fixing has taken place," a KBO official said. "But unless players report themselves, it will be difficult to find out just what has gone on."
One team official, who requested anonymity, said he has "never before heard of rumors" about possible match-fixing in baseball, but added, "Before things get out of hand, our club will conduct our own inquiry."
Another baseball official said the KBO should take a wait-and-see approach since prosecutors are still investigating the claim and nothing has been proven.
"Whatever information we have so far is quite abstract," the official said. "And we haven't had any player summoned for questioning yet. So we'll just have to watch how this will unfold."
An official with the KBL also said he was not aware of any match fixing from the hardwood and also said the league is holding seminars for all players to better education them about pitfalls of match fixing.
In light of the K-League scandal, other pro leagues have stepped up their player education. The KBO last month required managers, coaches and players to submit written pledges that they would not engage in illegal gambling or match fixing for baseball.
Baseball is the country's most popular professional sport and the KBO has enjoyed record attendance in the past three seasons. The KBL has recently clawed its way back to relevance after a few down years. If the broker's allegations are proven true, the blow to these two leagues will be even more devastating than to football or volleyball.
Prosecutors are trying to determine how match fixing could have been done in baseball and basketball. Illegal sports betting sites put out odds on the number of walks issued by a starting pitcher in the first inning, or on the number of three-point field goals or free throws made early in games.
Since these plays do not often directly affect the outcome of a game, base-on-balls and missed shots are not likely to be suspected as a part of match-fixing schemes.
As pro sports leagues try to deal with fresh allegations, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Tuesday vowed to get tougher on illegal sports gambling.
No Tae-kang, the head of the ministry's sports bureau, said the ministry will unveil a package of "comprehensive measures" next week designed to root out corruption in sports.
Last year, in response to the K-League match fixing, the ministry strengthened penalties for illegal betting in sports, but No said that alone won't get the job done.
"The reality is that it's difficult to eliminate match fixing with laws and regulations alone," No said. "We will crack down on illegal betting sites and make sure players aren't exposed to temptation from the beginning." (Yonhap)