Since the publication on September 2nd, 2008 there has been an extraordinary amount of controversy around the book.
In general, the controversy has been between the people who have read the book (generally positive) and those who have not. It is truly bizarre the number of people who can get themselves worked up denouncing things that I have never said or written about in the book. My invitation to anyone who feels like weighing into the argument is – read the book first. You will find the information contained in it shockingly detailed. There are over two hundred interviews with players, referees, sports officials, policemen, prosecutors and the criminals themselves. Part of the book is a 60-page section of references, notes and sources that shows the reader where this information comes from. I have insisted that all publishers include this part, to ensure that fans know that the book is based on solid, accurate information.
I do understand much of that debate comes from people who are so in love with the game that they cannot bring themselves to think that there is anything corrupt in the sport. They are wrong. The beautiful game is in danger, it needs our protection and it is not helped by the inaccurate nonsense that has, so far, surrounded the debate on the book.
The Unanswered – and Unasked – Questions
There are four major issues that are being missed in the current discussion. Few people seem to have understood them, fewer journalists have asked the necessary questions. In the sections below – I provide an outline of these issues, some of the sources I used and a list of questions that all journalists and fans who love football should be asking of the people involved.
1: Players are approached by Asian gambling fixers at international tournaments.
There is clear evidence that a group of organized crime gambling fixers have been approaching players at a variety of top international tournaments for at least 17 years.
1991 – Under-17 World Cup (Italy):
The President of the Ghana Football Association – Kwesi Nyantakyi
- claims that when the Ghana team won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1991, they were approached by Asian gambling fixers to throw a match. Mr. Nyantakyi also said, “it’s done all the time, at major competitions…World Cup, Cup of Nations.” He is right. His claims are supported by a number of other officials, players and fixers. Here is a brief list of some of the other approaches made to players at international tournaments by Asian organized crime gamblers.
1995 - Under-20 World Cup (Doha, Qatar):
While this tournament was going on, two Portuguese players were approached by an attractive young Asian woman. She invited them up to her room. When they arrived, they discovered, to their shock, a table covered with money, 2 Cameroonian players and 2 Asian fixers behind the table. Asian Football Confederation officials confirmed that the fixers were at the tournament and had approached players from Cameroon, Portugal, Honduras and Chile.
(Page 223 of “The Fix”: or read the newspaper articles)
1997 – Under-20 World Cup (Malaysia):
Stephen Appiah the Captain of the Ghana team claims in an interview that he was approached at this tournament by Asian gambling fixers. He and his room-mate had conversations in their hotel room with the fixers and he claims to have turned them down.
(Page 267 of “The Fix”: or listen to Appiah’s interview)
2004 - Olympic Games (Athens, Greece):
Stephen Appiah, along with other Ghanaian players confirms that he was approached at the tournament to throw matches by Asian gambling fixers. The other players claim that they turned down all approaches. Appiah claims that he took money from the fixers after winning a game and then distributed it around the team.
(Pages 267-269 of “The Fix”: or listen to Appiah’s interview)
2006 - World Cup (Würzburg, Germany):
Appiah and other Ghanaian officials confirm there was an approach by Asian gambling fixers made at this tournament. They all claim that these approaches were turned down.
(Page 285 of “The Fix”: or listen to Appiah’s interview)
2007 – International Friendly match (Tehran, Iran):
A day before the Ghana versus Iran match in Tehran, a group of Asian fixers helped by the Ghanaian coach Abukari Damba, approached 6 players on the Ghana national team to fix the game by a score of 4 – 2. The initial payment to the players was for $1,000.00. Damba insisted that each of the players give him a share of $500.00 for the introduction to the fixers. The Ghana team officials were notified by one of the players. Damba was fired from the team. The Ghana team did lose the game by a score of 4 -2, but all the players and officials state that this was an accident unrelated to the fixing attempt.
(Pages 272-275 and 280-281 of “The Fix”: or read the transcripts of the Ghana Football Association (GFA) hearing)
2007 - Women’s World Cup (Hangzhou, China):
In a number of interviews Ghanaian officials and players along with FIFA officials confirm that they were also approached by Asian gambling fixers at this tournament. The approaches were long, varied and serious. The fixers phoned the players at least 5 times and gave them the number of their hotel rooms and business cards. The officials listened to one of the approaches on one of the player’s hotel room telephone. The offer was for $22,000 and a lap-top computer to five players to help lose the game against Norway by at least 5 goals.
After listening to the call the Ghanaian officials went to FIFA for help. They had all the information on the fixers and were willing to testify, but the FIFA officials told them they could not help. They should go to the local organizing committee. The official Chinese response? They escorted the fixers to the train station and waved them good-bye.
The Ghana team did lose the game by a 5 goal margin, but all the players and officials state that this was an accident unrelated to the fixing attempt.
(Pages 300-301 of “The Fix”, or read the newspaper article)
2008 - Africa Cup of Nations (Accra, Ghana):
At this tournament, Reinhard Fabisch, the German coach of the Benin National team, publicly announced that he had been approached by an Asian gambling fixer to lose matches. Another team – Mali – also claimed that their players had been approached to lose matches. The official response? They made Fabisch sign an affadavit, and then did nothing.
So we have a situation where Asian gambling fixers have approached players and officials at an International Friendly Match, the Under-17 World Cup, the African Nations Cup, the Women’s World Cup, the Olympic Games and the World Cup. To make these approaches, the fixers travelled to eight different countries on three continents and approached at least seven national teams. The official line from FIFA is that these Asian gambling fixers are the unluckiest tourists in the world: they have gone to all these different tournaments and they have always failed. In 17 years of trying, the fixers have never found any players or referees willing to take a bribe to lose a match. They simply travel all the way to all these tournaments, make the approaches and they always fail. However, the fixers are completely undaunted by 17 years of failure, and so they keep coming back to make more unsuccessful attempts to fix games.
In fact it is so unthinkable that the fixers would ever succeed FIFA officials claim it is not worth their while to have a fully-staffed security department like North American sport leagues like the National Hockey League (NHL) or National Basketball Association (NBA).
The incidents reported here, by the way, are just the ones that we know about from official sources. In the book, readers will find that I have also spoken to current and former match-fixers who claim that not only have they gone to other international tournaments but that they have also succeeded in fixing matches.
Questions for FIFA
i) Given this long record of gambling fixers attempting to bribe players and officials at big international tournaments: why do you not have a fully established security department like the professional sports leagues in North America?
ii) The Danish Football Association has established “a hotline” to give players a way of reporting bribe attempts. Could not something similar be established at the international tournaments?
iii) There have been a number of “player strikes” at international tournaments.
Would it be possible to establish direct payment to the players: thereby ensuring that all players are paid fairly and avoiding the unseemly arguments between players and their officials? And also ensuring that a player who may have been exploited by his association is not tempted by an offer from a fixer.
iv) In the United States the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) hires the former New York mafia fixer Michael Franzese to teach their athletes why they should not fix games. (This is something I speak of in the book, but essentially a player becomes a slave of the fixers as soon as he accepts money from them).
2: The Olympic Games and the $20,000 Gift to Stephen Appiah
Stephen Appiah and other Ghanaian players were approached at the Athens Olympics by Asian fixers to lose games. In his interviews with me, Appiah told me that he had known the fixers from the Under-20 World Cup tournament in Malaysia in 1997. Other players that I spoke confirm that approaches were made, but that they all turned down the offers to lose a game. However, Appiah states that he took $20,000 from the fixers after winning a game and then distributed the money around the team. Appiah’s actions are in direct violation of FIFA’s rules. The Australian player – Abbas Saad – was banned globally for doing exactly the same thing in Singapore.
After the book was released, Stephen Appiah stated that I was lying. Appiah claimed that he had never received money from Asian gambling fixers. The transcripts of our interview in the book and on this website show clearly that Appiah’s statement is not true. In the interviews Appiah talks about receiving money from fixers at the Olympic Games in Athens after winning a match.
This whole incident begs a series of questions that should be answered in an official investigation or inquiry:
i) Why did Stephen Appiah, one of Africa’s richest players, take money from a gambling fixer? After all, this payment was not from a sponsor or rich fan or even a soccer agent, but from a man that Appiah knew to be a fixer.
ii) Did Appiah distribute the money to the other players, as he claims in the interviews?
iii) Did Appiah keep the money? Other players have denied receiving any money; so which version is correct?
iv) Did Appiah pay taxes on the money given to him by the fixers? If he did, how did he report the money on his tax forms?
v) If Appiah, who is so rich, took money from gamblers for winning a match, is it possible that one of his poorer team-mates may have taken money for losing a match?
vi) When the book was published, why did Appiah claim that he had never made these statements?
vii) Why has there been no official FIFA or Ghana Football Association inquiry into this matter? Appiah’s actions are in direct violation of their rules. So why no action?
viii) Why has there been no police investigation into this matter?
3: Abukari Damba’s Relationship with Fixers
Abukari Damba was a goalkeeper for Ghana’s national team in the 1990s. In the book, I describe seeing him at a meeting with fixers in Asia a few weeks before the start of the World Cup tournament.
We also know that Damba was fired from his coaching job at the Ghana Football Association a year after the World Cup for trying to fix a game between Ghana and Iran. We know from the transcripts of the Ghana Football Association hearings that the players described him as knowing the fixers well.
We also know from interviews with other Ghana players that Damba was at the Athens Olympic Games and he was seen talking with the fixers. We know from his own interviews that Damba was at the Ghana training camp during the Germany World Camp. He admits that he was at this camp, not with former team mates or sports officials, but in the presence of an Asian fixer who he had know since his playing days in Malaysia ten years before.
This history also begs a series of questions:
i) In many countries, Damba would have immediately been arrested after the GFA hearing. Why was Damba not arrested after attempting to fix the Ghana versus Iran game?
ii) What are the names of the fixers that Damba worked with at the Iran game?
iii) Were these fixers the same fixers who approached Reinhard Fabisch at the African Nations Cup?
iv) Were these fixers the same fixers who approached Stephen Appiah at the Olympic Games?
v) Were these fixers the same fixers who approached the Ghana Women’s Team?
vi) If Damba had known these fixers for 10 years, what did he help them with? In the book, he claims that it was simply introducing them to the players and he did not know anything else that went on. Is this true?
4: The reach of the Asian gambling market into smaller European leagues and matches.
In November 2007, newspapers in Scotland announced that matches featuring teenagers were being bet on in illegal Asian gambling markets. The matches were watched by agents who were relaying information back to Asia on their mobile phones. To someone who has not seen the illegal Asian gambling market in operation it may seem extraordinary – adolescents playing in Glasgow being watched and gambled on by Chinese criminals half-way around the world. However, there are similar situations in many leagues across Europe. In the book, I show similar circumstances in leagues in Belgium, Finland and Germany.
Some people argue that these situations are not a problem. After all, the big European teams must be immune from match-fixing because they pay their players so well. That is a reasonable argument, but it does miss one important point: where do those big teams get their players from? Mostly, the players come from small teams in smaller leagues. If those teams or leagues become corrupted, then who will really control the players when they arrive at the big clubs: the club or the fixers?
Also, the people who run this market are not kind or gentle. They are some of the most violent criminals in the world. In August 2008, the bodies of Zhen Xing Yang and his girlfriend Xi Zhou were discovered in their student home in Newcastle in Northeast England. At first, the police were perplexed as to why anyone would kill the two graduate students. The victims were reported as being gentle and studious; yet from their bodies it was clear that before they died, they had been tortured and stabbed for at least an hour. The murders and their sheer brutality were a mystery. Then during the investigation, the police discovered the students’ employment – reporting on local English football matches for the illegal gambling markets back in China.
Questions for European Football Associations
i) What measure have you taken against interest by the Asian illegal gambling markets in matches played in your league?
ii) Have you provided any protection or training for your players if they are approached by gambling fixers?
iii) Have you ever expelled a fixer from your stadium or grounds?
iv) Have you ever suggested this approach to clubs?
v) Have you coordinated a response with the police?
vi) Have you set up a security department in your organization to protect the game?