Yes, of course they will be there. Why would they not be? We know they have been at every major international soccer tournament (with the exception of the Euros) in the last twenty years: under-17, under-20, Women’s World Cup, Men’s World Cup and the Olympics. We know this because not only did I interview the fixers but also numerous coaches, players and sports officials who confirmed seeing the fixers at the events. What we do not know is if they will succeed at fixing any games.
I do not say this lightly. I did not issue a similar warning before the Euros, but I did in the run-up to the South Africa World Cup. Few people chose to heed the warning. Now we know that four of the five friendly matches played by the South African team were arranged by a fixer run company. We know that the fixers were at the Athens Olympics. We know that they were active in China during the Women’s World Cup. We know that they have been operating across Asia, Europe, Africa and Central America. We know that there are numerous national police investigations into their activities, yet only one Asian member of their gang has actually been arrested. So knowing all those facts, the question becomes not whether the fixers will be at the Games, but why would they not be there?
Surely, no athlete would want to ruin their chances of Olympic glory?
Try not to be naïve. In the Olympic soccer tournament there are only a few teams that have any chance of gaining a medal, let alone winning the whole thing. Any realist connected with sport knows that fact. They also know that the players will be running into sold-out stadiums, the games will be broadcast to hundreds of millions of people around the world and that someone, somewhere, is making a lot of money from the sponsors, but that often those people are not the athletes who are actually playing the game. Add to this that many of the athletes and referees are poor people from poor countries who have few chances in their careers to make good money and when they do, often their own sports officials deprive them of a proper reward.
This is the key dynamic that drives sports corruption – exploitation of the players/referees – until it stops fixers can reasonably expect that some of the athletes/referees will listen to them.
Just a second, I read in the newspapers that the London Games and the International Olympic Committee had a special security squad to stop the fixers?
LOL. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! [Sound of Hill falling off chair with laughter] The London Games’ security? I think we all know that is an oxymoron now. The private company that had the contract to ‘secure’ the Games announced two weeks ago that they had not found enough guards. In the training sessions for some of the guards that they did find, some were asleep and a few had no idea of how to ‘secure’ the Games after their training sessions. The UK Customs and Border security staff are also holding a one-day strike this week, which should add to the general feeling of security that any fixer or dodgy customer feels when flying into the London Games.
Units of the British Army have been drafted in at the last moment, which is good (although unfair to the soldiers, who should have had months of preparation). But most of their attention has gone to preventing potential terrorist attacks, not stopping the odd rich gambler who may be entering the country.
But, I remember in March that spokespeople for the British gambling industry announced, after meeting with the IOC and London organizers, that no one had anything to worry about – few people bothered betting on the Olympics so it was not worth fixing any of the events.
Oh they did, did they? This would be the same industry that is now taking bets on just about every conceivable aspect of the Games from whether there will be daily rain showers at the Olympic Stadium (50/1) to who will win the Women’s Badminton Final to whether the Olympic Village will run out of condoms (7/2).
To be fair, the fixers usually do not bet with the British gambling industry. It is simply too well-regulated and monitored. What they do is bet on the Asian – largely illegal -gambling market. Everyone in the betting industry knows this, so quite how some of their spokesmen were able to say what they did in March with a straight face is beyond me.
Could the fixers be stopped?
Yes, of course. Ideally, the campaign against them should have begun months ago. The fixers have probably already traveled to visit most of their regular athletes/referees contacts in their own countries to set up any potential deals. However, even now someone could stop the fixers cold, but with the level of disorganization that we have seen, do not hold your breath on that happening.
So with a few days to go before the start of the Olympics, we are, as usual, forced to rely on two things: the honesty of every single athlete and referee and the knowledge that if a fix did actually occur few people – not the fixers, complicit athletes/referees or sports officials – have any interest in publicizing that fact. It is not a reassuring situation.