I know, I know – you are sitting there reading reports of Italian national team players being arrested at their training camps: the coach of Juventus being taken in for questioning mere weeks after winning the national championship: dozens of other players being arrested – and you think, ‘There is no way that it can get worse! My goodness if even a tenth of these allegations are true. This is awful.’ However, all these stories are superficial details of a major theme that has emerged.
Listen up and listen well. I have said this before. I have been warning about this issue for seven years and most sports officials and journalists have deliberately ignored the message, so listen carefully this time and then take action.
We are speaking about an industrial-system of corruption in European football. This is no longer about allegations of key players and officials being involved in fixing, but a business model of corruption that is enveloping the sport.
Why the strong words?
First, over half the professional teams in Italy are now under investigation for corruption. Those are the teams, not individual players that are being questioned by police. If such a large number of teams is alleged to have been involved, it becomes part of an accepted business model to be corrupt. It is no longer about sensational details, but an informal system of governance.
Second, take a look at the Black Book by the umbrella organization of players’ unions in Europe – FIFPro. In January of 2012, they produced a very good survey of over three-thousand of their members (current European football players). More than ten percent of their members reported direct involvement in match-fixing, they had either fixed themselves or had been approached directly to fix. Another twenty-three percent of their members knew of fixing going on their leagues. The authors of the report write they think these numbers are an under-estimation of the amount of fixing going on as many teams that were rumoured to be corrupt refused to allow their players to take part in the survey.
With these kinds of numbers we are speaking of a business model – a professionalization of corruption. The allegation at the centre of all these scandals is that club officials and senior players are sitting down and choosing which games to win and which games to lose based on their own balance sheets and pension plans. They will plan to win twenty games a season, and lose ten. Because they have the certainty in losing – they can make more money by losing those games then they can by winning all the rest.
Who is fixing the Italian league?
According to the police documents that I am reading, it is the same group of Asian match-brokers and fixers that I wrote about in The Fix. They allied with a gang of Balkan semi-criminals who were their ‘runners’ and they entered into alliances with players, coaches and team officials.
I wrote about these guys and their methods. I named names. I showed how they went about their business. This scandal should not be a surprise to any sports official.
Is there any hope?
Yes, thank goodness for the Italian police and state prosecutors. Unlike their sports officials they have actually taken the problem seriously and are doing something about it. Hopefully, they can save Italian and European football before all credibility is gone.