It is that time again. The inbox is starting to fill up with the conspiracy theorists and the simply curious wanting to know if/when and who might be fixing in the Euro tournament. Certainly, it is the right time for the fixes: the third sequence of games in the opening round of a major international football tournament. The time when if fixes were to occur they would be starting now. I saw this when the fixers were discussing their tactics at the World Cup. This is when they approach players with a variation of Bernard Tapie’s immortal line, ‘You are going to lose anyway, why don’t you lose with 30,000 Francs in your pocket.’
Here is the good news. I do not think there will be fixing at these European Championships. (At least not of the kind that I know – where players are motivated for profit on the sports gambling market. There may be the usual, run-of-the-mill arrangements when it may benefit both teams to draw the match to advance to the quarter-finals and the pace of the match slows down and few shots are taken. However, I have no inside knowledge about those possible fixes).
Here is why I write those words.
First, I never heard any of the fixers claiming that they could fix the Euros. They spoke openly about corrupting the Olympic soccer tournament and the World Cup tournaments at various levels, but never the European Championship.
Second, the current structure of the tournaments counts against any corruption. There are sixteen teams, of which eight (at least at the beginning of the tournament) had a genuinely good chance of winning the whole thing – France, England, Spain, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal and Russia. There are half-a-dozen other teams – Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark, Croatia, Ukraine and Poland – who on their day could beat any of the favourites and of the final two teams – Greece and Ireland – one of them has won the whole tournament recently enough for their players to have some hope, no matter how unlikely, in their hearts of winning.
Three, most of the federations who run those teams are relatively honest. The open door to corruption in international football is a federation who will not pay their players for playing in a major tournament. One can argue the general direction of most European associations, but most of the time they can get the basics done, which is more than can be said for most African sporting federations who generally regard their athletes as bodies to be fleeced rather than serious professionals.
Here is the bad news.
We are actually at a stage where people are beginning to speak as if this were a regular or normal thing – fixing major tournaments. Five years ago, no one would have contemplated a major tournament being fixed. In that five years of learning, no single sporting agency has taken the threat seriously enough to do anything credible – over the long-term – about it.
Two, I think that there will be no fixing because the players want to win. I do not think there will be no fixing because UEFA is doing a good job of guarding the game. Their chief integrity officer is now going the way of Chris Eaton and the half-a-dozen other purported anti-corruption fighters who have shuffled across the sporting stage, said the right things, and then faded into comfortable oblivion.
The people who are replacing this first wave of supposed anti-corruption fighters would make a dispassionate fan raise their eyebrows. It is the Qataris who are banging a drum loudly in the sports movement to try to claim the mantle of anti-corruption experts. The Qataris?! Yes, after the publicity debacle of their winning the rights to host the World Cup 2022, they have set up a bizarre group called the International Centre for Sport Security. Here at the Euros one of their people has been put in place as a security leader. The Qatari group is full of superannuated ex-policemen and odd marginal sports figures. I believe, at this moment, the group is more a patina for the Qataris to pretend to be doing something credible against corruption, which will then spread across the sports movement, so the entire set of sports officials can pretend to be doing something credible against corruption. I hope I am wrong. I hope they come out in the next few months with genuine evidence that they are seriously fighting corruption in sport. I do not think they will and it means that in the long-run that the fixers will have much more fruitful opportunities.