Match-Fixing in Football: How Much Goes On That We Don’t Know About?
“Money doesn’t talk, it swears” – Bob Dylan
The Italian Serie A started the season with newly promoted Atalanta at the foot of the table, after the club faced a points deduction due to match-fixing in Italian Serie B. I was disappointed to learn that the player at the centre of the controversy was Atalanta legend Cristiano Doni, a player regarded by many (myself included) as heavily underrated in his time, and a victim of being part of a vibrant generation of Italian footballers, meaning he rarely got a chance to shine on the International stage. The summer of 2011 also focused heavily on the plight of Turkish football, which opted to remove Fenerbahçe from the Champions League after they were the highest profile team involved in a huge match-fixing scandal. Fans said an emotional goodbye to Diego Lugano as he was sold to Paris Saint-Germain as a result of less revenue coming into the club, and fans rioted to show their disgust at the media’s attempt to focus on their President, believing that he was nothing but a scapegoat in the whole issue. The result of this did however give us a brilliant football moment, as the club decided to only allow female fans into the stadium for one of their league games (and some die-hard Fenerbahce men who decided to dress up as women). I recently read an article on the Telegraph’s website which spoke about how vulnerable the English game is to match-fixing, and it is an issue I’ve considered for a great length of time.
I first talked about this at great length several years back when I was at University. My household was a football fan’s dream. Sunday in particular often involved us watching as much football as we could, taking in all of Sky Sport’s football offerings, followed by Serie A and La Liga action, as well as football from Argentina and Eastern Europe if we could fit it in (or indeed any football from anywhere in the world!). It was here myself and a friend started talking about match-fixing in football. We both strongly believed that it was rampant throughout not only football, but sport in general, and it is likely that we don’t even know to what extent it is evident. Another of my housemates disagreed and thought it was quite unlikely, although I often felt it was more a case of them not wanting it to be true.
The autobiography of Southampton legend and Sky Sports pundit Matt Le Tissier is one of the things that fuels my belief. Here we have a player who is regarded as a legend for his club and one of the most underrated players the English game has ever seen. Le Tissier hardly seems like the sort of person to rock the boat, seeing him weekly on Gillette Soccer Special gives the impression he is not exactly a man that is ready to break out into controversy (unlike some of his co-panellists). In his book, he revealed that he was part of a betting scam in 1995, in which he was tasked with kicking the ball out of play within the first minute of a game. This event never came to public knowledge until Le Tissier himself wrote about it in his book, meaning for 14 or so years, people got away with match fixing.
I know you could argue that all Le Tissier did was kick a ball out of play, which doesn’t really alter a match too much, but it does show how some players can be manipulated or lured in by the prospect of a big pay day, as well as how some illegal activities in sport can go under the radar. Many betting scams that do get reported to the public tend to usually involve smaller teams, or lower league matches. Even in England, games such as Norwich V Derby from 2008 were brought under scrutiny (although it should be stressed that the FA ended up taking no action) meaning that lower league games tend to be an easy target of scammers due to the lack of media spotlight, as opposed to the top tier leagues which are watched by mass audiences, with widespread media coverage.
My memory of news in Britain regarding match-fixing in the past several years has mainly centred around Eastern European football (most recently Croatian football) and the Europa League, although Asia is commonly cited as the continent in which match-fixing groups are based. Declan Hill’s book, The Fix: Soccer and Organised Crime, gives a chilling account of the dangerous world of match-fixing and the saddening truth that match-fixing is quite common throughout world football.
The main question is with regards as to whether or not match fixing takes place in the grandest of stages, and exactly how often it occurs. 2002 saw Italy knocked out the World Cup by South Korea, in which referee Byron Moreno gave a number of questionable decisions against Italy. Italy felt aggrieved by his conduct, yet no action ever took place. Many people may be unaware that, post-World Cup, Moreno was suspended from refereeing in Ecuador for twenty matches, after he allowed one league fixture to have 12 minutes of extra time, with an obvious attempt to manipulate the result of the game. Byron Moreno now sits in a prison cell, after being caught in an attempt to smuggle heroin into the USA. With the realisation of Moreno’s debt problems and other convictions, it doesn’t exactly close the case on whether or not he had a part in fixing that game in 2002.
In the past few years we have seen Cricket, Snooker, college basketball and even competitive video gaming be hit by match fixing scandals, to name a few. Particularly in the case of snooker, former player Willie Thorne said that match fixing is rampant throughout the sport, with the general public having no idea of the internal problems within the sport. People in match-fixing don’t set themselves up to be caught, and the success rate of catching these gambling syndicates may never be known, as there is a distinct likelihood that there are many who are never caught.
Serie A was rocked by the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, and although the league is still one of the strongest in the world, it still hasn’t fully recovered from the damage done. This was probably the most high profile and covered stories in relation to match-fixing due to it being related to one of the best leagues in the world and the arguments regarding stripped titles and apologies rages on to this day. Since then, the previously mentioned Turkish scandal and the 2011 Greek football scandal, which resulted in despondent Volos fans rioting on the streets, have been two of the other top flight leagues that have been caught in questionable dealings. It is a problem that European football has struggled with for a long time, and although FIFA and Interpol are attempting to battle the issue, it is something that is extremely hard to tackle.
Serie A is an example of a league in which drastic action was taken when a top football league was thrown into turmoil, and is this most high profile match-fixing scandal in recent memory. The Bundesliga has also had to fend off a number of recent match-fixing claims, which have most recently included a match between Cottbus and Bochum in 2009 and St. Pauli being accused of match-fixing. In 2011, ex-St. Pauli striker Rene Schnitzler admitted that he had taken bribes before in order to fix matches in Germany, which also included comments similar to that of the formerly mentioned snooker player Willie Thorne, claiming up to 80% of players in Germany enjoy gambling, with many being in debt because of their addiction. This in turn could make them vulnerable to being manipulated, as well as opening them up to characters within the betting world who have distinct motives.
The main question, I wonder, is whether or not many of the things we’ve seen in top leagues such as the English Premier League have involved some form of match-fixing. It is clear to see from timelines such as the one presented by The Guardian in 2006, match-fixing often rears its ugly head in the beautiful game. The English Premier League has become so popular that it truly is vulnerable to betting scams, with the threat being able to come from any corner of the earth and the proximity to which some of these people have to players in horrifying to think of. As England Cricket captain Andrew Stauss said in a recent interview, in relation to his sport and match-fixing:
“…let’s not be arrogant and just assume it’s [corruption] not there, because clearly there has been an incident and if there has been one incident then there is a fair chance that there have been others.”
Not all claims are valid, however, as many matches are investigated as a precaution. It is sad to see how common match-fixing is within, not only football, but sport in general and the truth is that the majority of it may not even be apparent to the general public. The Premier League audience is broader than any other football league in the world, so it saddens me to think that there is a distinct likelihood that some of the dramatic events we have seen over the years could have been a result of manipulation. Match-fixing only takes an individual to become corrupt and alter the game, and this in turn has huge ramifications on the entire sport.
Indeed the European Cup itself, the top club competition in the world, is no stranger to match-fixing and even had allegations this season when Lyon picked up a 7-1 victory against Dinamo Zagreb (with a seven goal swing necessary for Lyon to qualify). Quite famously, Anderlecht chairman Roger Vanden Stock admitted to bribing a referee in a match against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, albeit 13 years after the offence was committed. I can still remember the Chelsea Vs Barcelona match several years ago in which Iniesta scored a last minute goal to send Barcelona through, after a series of questionable decisions by the referee. The game brought some minor suggestions of match-fixing, although reports focused more on the inexperience and poor ability of the Norwegian referee. Barcelona themselves are no strangers to match-fixing allegations…
I’ve tried to give as many examples as possible here, but a quick search on the Internet through Google will show you how rampant match-fixing is throughout football. The saddest part of it is that many manipulations of the game have probably gone unnoticed and the war against match-fixing will never be won. I dread to think that some of the great moments I’ve witnessed in the top leagues and cup competitions in world football could have been altered by individuals and gambling groups, but it is a sad belief that I possess due to the underlying evidence that I have seen over the years. It is an ugly aspect of sport in general, and if a large scale match-fixing scandal was to be uncovered in England’s top tier, I’d dread to think of the fallout considering the relentless and opinion controlling British media.
Follow me on Twitter @Clusks – I’d love to hear your opinions and thoughts on the matter!