Team SBC’s David Kelly examines the extent of the global match fixing and sports corruption underworld, as fresh World Cup rigging allegations crank up the heat on Sepp Blatter. The following SBC series will introduce match fixing, discuss its prevalence amid recent reports, and offer some insights as to how the gambling industry can protect sports integrity and lead the fight.
The 20th FIFA World Cup starts this week and is expected to pump more than £1bn into the UK betting industry, with a record number of TV viewers and mobile placed wagers eagerly anticipated. But a recent spate of investigations and turmoil has cast a dark shadow over Brazil and the international football governing body itself, stemming from fixed exhibition matches prior to the 2010 World Cup, to Qatar’s winning bid for the 2022 tournament. Last month, former Black Cap Lou Vincent’s claims and personal admission rocked international cricket, proving that match manipulation and bribery know no bounds, and will continue irrespective of code.
Match fixing is nothing new, having reared its ugly head before the inception of the Olympic Games. The 2006 Italian crisis dumped Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina out of Serie A, while the 1915 Manchester United versus Liverpool tie, which inevitably saved the Red Devils from relegation, are two poignant examples and indictments on the beautiful game, of which there are many.
A two year study into sport corruption by the International Centre for Sport Security and the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, somewhat surprisingly suggested that organised crime is estimated to launder over £83.5bn annually through sport betting. It also branded 80 per cent of global sport betting ‘illegal’, with football and cricket among the most targeted sports by criminals. While bookmakers and sportsbooks have every right to bemoan lost revenue, reports suggests that illegal betting and fraud is often a front for drug smuggling and terrorism, making it an issue of grave concern for national and international law enforcement agencies.
Interpol, the world’s largest police body, with 190 member countries, and the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) have both played their part in the ongoing battle against match fixing. Indeed, it was the NCA which tipped off the Scottish Football Association prior to last week’s Nigeria friendly.During the game Eagle’s goalkeeper Austin Ejide scored a slapstick own goal, practically throwing the ball into his own net, adding to and arousing further suspicion. Ironically, the goal was chalked off for a foul.
Interpol also has an Integrity in Sport Unit, and has developed, in conjunction with FIFA, a programme to assist football associations, government departments, and other relevant stakeholders in developing strategies to tackling match-fixing across national, regional and international levels and borders. The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) have signed a formal cooperation agreement with Interpol, aimed at eradicating this “scourge from football through education, surveillance and sanction”, said CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb.
Meanwhile, match fixer Wilson Raj Perumal’s book, Kelong Kings, allegedly implicates Nigeria and Honduras, as well as a host of other associations. Invisible Dog, an independent group of journalists, directed by co-authors Alessandro Righi and Emanuele Piano, released a statement criticising FIFA for its perceived failure ahead of Brazil’s opening ceremony on June 12th.
“In our book, Kelong Kings, Wilson makes a number of revelations that have triggered much alarm within FIFA, Football Federations and Associations. After reading Wilson’s account, FIFA’s supposed match-fixing watchdogs have promised to start a number of investigations into the corruption of national Football Federations and into the distorted results of the qualification rounds that led to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Up to this day, however, none of us – including Wilson – have received so much as an e-mail or a telephone call from FIFA to ask about the World Cup qualifiers of Nigeria, Honduras, or the official FIFA qualifiers involving the USA, Ghana, Ivory Coast, etc. We understand from reports that the Nigerian Football Federation has had to provide a video recording of its last 2010 World Cup qualifying match against Kenya. We are surprised to hear that the all-powerful FIFA could not fetch a copy on its own (highlights are on youtube).”