It is difficult to find a place more hidden from the rest of the world than a boxing gym in Havana. There may be some Tibetan monastery nestled in the Himalayas where you get less news from the outside world, but few of those monks (I presume) throw punches at you. This has the effect of concentrating your mind very quickly on the very near and very immediate. So I returned from Cuba to find news of bin Laden, Canadian elections and all manner of corruption and match-fixing around FIFA.
To review – In the middle of their own presidential election race – FIFA has announced that at least 300 matches were fixed (we knew that), that there are fixed matches in a range of European leagues, including the Champions League (we knew that), and that international friendly matches may have been fixed (we knew that). The next day (May 10) Lord Triesman, the former head of the English Football Association, testified before parliament that four members of FIFA’s own executive committee solicited bribes during the decision process to host the World Cup.
I don’t want to be one of those commentators who lives in the ‘everything that football officials do is bad’ camp; so to begin, here is the good that has emerged from the latest events.
FIFA is finally taking match-fixing seriously. At their press event they brought in investigators with real credibility like Friedhelm Althans – one of the lead people in the Bochum Organized Crime Task Force. This German inquiry is the one undeniably serious and effective police investigation that the sport has seen into match-fixing. It is good that they are getting the attention they deserve from the world media. On top of that, FIFA has established, with Interpol, an anti-corruption centre in Singapore. They have given it lots of money and resources. Potentially, it could be an excellent start to attacking corruption in football.
These things seem very positive.
The rest, sadly, is not.
In FIFA’s announcement about their new anti-corruption centre, there is no actual money being put aside for investigations or enforcement. Nor is there a mandate to investigate corruption inside FIFA. Without these things the centre will largely be a sham. To be clear, FIFA does not investigate match-fixing or corruption. Nor does Interpol investigate crimes. All of the money that FIFA has given to the centre is for education.
Ask yourself – what do players need education for? Do you really need to explain to them which goal they are supposed to score in? What does a referee need education for? Is it really that difficult to figure out they are supposed to do their job without taking bribes?
I am not being facetious. If there are no investigation or enforcement arms at this anti-corruption centre, then to teach athletes and referees about the dangers of match-fixing is simply providing a bunch of ‘how-to-be-corrupt’ courses. No one will be afraid to take the money. Why should they be? There are no resources devoted to catching people who are fixing games. So the anti-corruption centre promises to be one of those well-constructed snooze-fest places where people go to hear their bosses give seminars full of corporate nonsense and then leave to get on with the lives.
At this stage, the people who really need the education and training are league and team officials (you can start with teaching them not to bet on their own games and leagues). A few of them, according to the fixers, actually work with the fixers; and some of them solicit bribes. This is the problem at the heart of international sports that officials are desperate not to examine. They try to focus the attention on ‘illegal gambling’. They set up centres that do not investigate but do educate the people with no power in the sporting world. However, it is the nexus between corrupt sports officials and gambling that is the real problem. Until we have an international sports agency that can collect information and investigate within sports – the problems of fixing will continue.
Finally, and here is the headline, please Mr. Blatter, stop concentrating on fixed matches in the Finnish league or the possibility of small friendly matches being corrupted. The problems of international football go right the way to the top. We spoke about this three years ago in February 2008, at your offices in Zurich. I told you about the gangs of match-fixers who go to all the big international soccer tournaments, including the World Cup. I told you that they have been going for years. I told you they have approached dozens of teams, and hundreds of referees and players. And I told you that I believe, at times, they have succeeded. They can be stopped very easily, but giving millions of dollars to an education centre is not going to help.