It has been a long, hot summer of match-fixing scandals.
Count them: Zimbabwe, Finland, the Czech Republic, Nigeria, South Korea, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Poland, Malaysia (again) … the list goes on, but lets stop there for the moment. Suffice it to say that the scandals feature some of the top sports teams in the world and show clearly that the wave of match-fixing that I predicted is now deeply embedded in professional sports.
I have not had time to comment on all the scandals, I have been flying around the world consulting for some national governments and trying to put in place an effective education program for athletes. So now I am going to write and post three blogs over the next few days, their subjects are:
- What I believe FIFA is really doing
- What sports organizations should be doing
- What you as a sports fan could be doing to get rid of corruption in sports.
Here is the main update: the police have largely done their job – they have followed up on ‘The Fix’, there are half a dozen serious, criminal investigations going on around the world. If we push hard, we could clean-up international sports for a generation. But many sports organizations are desperately trying to run to the head of the parade so they can direct the investigations. They are desperately afraid that someone will start investigating the status quo. I do not want to exaggerate. This is a complicated story. There are lots of honest, decent sports officials who are genuinely concerned about corruption, but there is also lots of fear that the status quo will be upset and that other officials will be linked to the on-going investigations.
Let’s focus on FIFA. Ever since their controversial non-election this spring, they have been banging a drum about match-fixing.
So what is FIFA actually doing about the problem? In my opinion, at this moment, they are running a public relations campaign. They are not running an effective investigation against match-fixing. Repeat. I believe, at this moment, they are not running credible investigations. I hope in the future they will prove me wrong, but at this moment I think there is not a credible investigation going on.
Why not? Well first of all, FIFA has a massive credibility problem when it comes to corruption. There are not many disinterested people in the world who will believe that a current FIFA investigation would root out all match-fixing if it were found to be linked to a high-level sports official. Because of this perception, few players and referees will trust FIFA officials to give them the necessary information. Second, neither FIFA nor Interpol (which has been linked to FIFA) has the jurisdiction to investigate or make arrests. To stop these problems, they need to link to a credible national police force.
What FIFA is doing is having their head of security Chris Eaton fly around the world where he gives press conferences and media interviews. To be fair to Mr. Eaton, he has considerable manly charm. He looks exactly like the guy you want at your back during a bar fight in the Australian outback. You can understand why some of the tame sports journalists are so besotted that they forget their professional duty and do not ask any difficult questions. Mr. Eaton is also saying all the right things to the press. He has pointed out that there are fixing gangs that go around the world trying to corrupt matches in dozens of different countries. He has pointed out that many international friendly matches have been corrupted. He has pointed out that match-fixing gangs often import groups of players from Africa or the former Soviet sphere to win/lose matches on command in small leagues.
This is all true, and kudos for Mr. Eaton for saying what I revealed three years ago in ‘The Fix’. However, it is not an investigation. Credible investigations feature a careful collection of evidence. Credible investigations feature international arrest warrants and actual arrests. Credible investigations are linked with an appropriate, well-resourced national police force who will press the investigation to their natural conclusion even if top-level sports officials are also involved in the corruption.
Who has actually led the best investigation into corruption in international football? The Lapland Division of the Finnish National Police (I am not making this up) and the Zimbabwean Football Association. Both countries had the same gang fixing a whole range of their football matches. I have read their reports and both organizations did a very good job of investigating. However, you know things are really bad when you have to rely on the Zimbabwean Football Association to lead your fight against corruption and match-fixing.
FIFA’s great success in a summer of match-fixing scandals? Earlier this month, they issued lifetime bans for the referees involved in those strange friendly matches played last winter on a remote field in Turkey. The matches were watched by a couple of hundred people and they featured seven goals by seven penalties. Who was not sanctioned? Not a single sports official. Not a single Asian sports agent. Not a single person who actually organized, signed off or paid for those matches was arrested, banned or in anyway sanctioned by FIFA.
Let us be clear. FIFA is one of the richest and most powerful international organizations in the world. At the draw for the World Cup in July, the Brazilian government shut down the airspace over Rio de Janeiro for four hours, so there would be no sound problems during the draw. If they can spend 20-million-dollars for a one-day event (far more than Mr. Eaton’s entire budget), if they can shut down commercial air space over one of Latin America’s biggest air ports for four hours, then they can arrange international arrest warrants, organize an effective investigation and start implementing proper reforms.
What could be done at FIFA and other sports organizations to prevent corruption? So much, and so much of it so simple, that it boggles the mind that it has not be done. I will post those actions in the next few days and then in the next blog show how ordinary sports fans can get some of those reforms implemented – stay tuned.