Controversial former New Zealand Football (NZF) boss Andy Martin allegedly tried to sell the online streaming rights to the country's national league to an overseas company in a secret deal that piqued the interest of police and had the potential to pose a "significant threat to the integrity of the sport" here.
The Herald on Sunday can reveal Martin met with representatives from a Swiss-based company in Russia while attending the draw for the 2017 Confederations Cup on November 27, 2016, in Kazan.
According to the proposed contractual agreement, the Swiss company would "offer and market the online streaming rights in the market of the worldwide sports betting industry", while "using its contacts to generate the best possible result".
The proposed deal included 20 National League regular season games, three finals matches, as well as some matches in the Chatham Cup, and the national women's competition.
Police claim this could have significantly increased New Zealand football's exposure to match-fixing and organised crime - with one well-placed source saying bookmakers offering odds on the competition could have increased ten-fold.
Without any coverage available, around $30 million is bet on the NZFC in offshore markets each year. More than 220 bookmakers offer odds on the competition, the majority in Asia.
Although the potential deal was highly confidential, the Herald on Sunday understands the matter was passed on to the police, who did a series of background checks on the potential buyer but couldn't take any further action as no crime had been committed and the proposed deal was a commercial agreement.
The ramifications could have been far-reaching, said Detective Superintendent Iain Chapman, who holds the police portfolio covering sport crime and sport integrity and also heads the Financial Crime Group.
"Hypothetically, it would have been a significant threat to sport integrity here. Often the true mechanism of online live streaming, or the true purpose, is to facilitate unregulated betting. Unfortunately, while it might seem very appealing for a National Sports Organisation to receive that money [and] get their games on the international stage, it really is unregulated betting in disguise. As the scale grows, the chance of organised crime getting involved grows, too," Chapman said.
"It's not overcooking it. If it goes out into the world market, you are going to see a significant increase in betting activity. All you need is one or two unregulated bookmakers to have contacts here, who can make those approaches [and] get players or teams on their side. The next thing you have is fixed games; the bookies are happy, the punters are none the wiser and the players are in danger."
The Herald on Sunday understands the Swiss company would have received a 20 per cent share of all revenue generated through the sales and sub-licensing of the online betting streaming rights to third parties.
However, the contract also detailed that the Licensor (NZF) would have to approve each contract with a third party.
Although unaware of Martin's alleged approach, Andrew Scott-Howman, general counsel for the Professional Footballers' Association, agreed that such a deal would have exposed players and the sport to significant risk.
"The PFA recognises that the single biggest threat to the integrity of the game in this country is the prospect of match-fixing," said Scott-Howman. "It would mean an end to the game as we know it in New Zealand. From what we have seen worldwide, the risk is so high that the prospect of an approach from a match-fixer is almost inevitable. It's so high that you have to assume it will happen ... it's simply a matter of time.
"What concerns me about this deal is that it was not a broadcasting deal. This was not a way for your football fan from Dubai or Dhaka to relax at home and watch New Zealand football on the weekend. This was limited to one industry, so the only televisions that would be showing these games would be in gambling dens."
It is not known when or why negotiations between Martin and the company broke down.
Martin resigned from his post in July after four years at the helm of NZF.
His turbulent tenure culminated in NZF being forced to issue a public apology to former Football Ferns manager Claire Hamilton after Martin had earlier claimed her departure was due to performance issues.
Hamilton had reportedly raised concerns about issues during the Ferns' disastrous camp in Spain in March.
Despite numerous attempts, Martin could not be reached for comment.
NZF chairman Deryck Shaw said he couldn't comment on any historical matters: "We have a review in process now. Those sort of things will be a matter that may or may not be part of a review."