December 8, 2011: For those who missed it last night’s final round of Champions League matches featured a bizarre game between Olympique Lyonnais (OL) and Dinamo Zagreb. OL needed to win by a large margin of goals to qualify for the next round of the Champions League. They duly won the game by a score of 7 to 1. Today’s European newspapers – particularly in the Netherlands – are full of speculation about the match. The following are my comments about questions I have been asked on the match and its circumstances:
Do you have any specific knowledge about last night’s match between Olympique Lyonnais and Dinamo Zagreb?
Is it perfectly reasonably for a football fan to ask whether a fix occurred at last night’s Olympique Lyonnais versus Dinamo Zagreb match?
Yes, of course. Any fair-minded person could be suspicious. The Croatian football world has had a long history of corruption. The Sapina Brothers who organized a match-fixing ring across Europe and many of their top conspirators are Croatian. The Croatian police are aware of this issue and have launched a national investigation. Twenty years ago, French football officials like Bernard Tapie and Jean-Claude Bins routinely fixed European Cup matches. Two years ago, UEFA (the organization in charge of the Champions League) the officials themesleves, claimed that up to fifty Champions League matches in the last five years may have been fixed. This is not to say that a fix did occur, but it is perfectly reasonable to be suspicious given the track record.
Would the gambling market have shown that a fix was occurring?
No. People are insinuating that a fix occurred between team officials for OL to qualify to the next round of the Champions League. I have no idea if such a thing happened. However, this type of fix has nothing to do with the gambling market and therefore would not necessarily have shown up on the market. Two, OL was the favourite to win the match therefore the markets would have been slower to pick up on a lot of money being punted for OL to win.
Could Football officials be doing more to ensure that a fix did not take place?
Yes. UEFA, for all practical purposes, still does not have a credible integrity unit. UEFA is the best football organization on the planet for taking this problem seriously. However, three years after the establishment of their integrity unit they still, largely, rely on the monitoring of the betting markets, which as I explained above, is in this case practically useless for verifying if a fix occurred. They need to get more former police officers who can walk into a player’s dressing room and instil fear in the players, before their unit will be complete.
The French Football Federation does not have an integrity unit. They need to get one into place quickly or this wonderful tournament will suffer from more doubt about its integrity.