If you speak Greek and want a free copy of ‘The Fix’ – get to Athens this weekend. There, one of the top newspapers Ethnos is featuring a full-feature interview with me and giving away copies of the book for the first 70,000 people who buy the newspaper.
This is all happening because last Wednesday, just before I was to testify at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, a young, dynamic, female prosecutor Popi Papandreou did what few men in Greek sports would have done and arrested 68 top football officials including the President of the Greek Super-League and head of the Olympiakos. She arrested them because she accused them of sustained and systematic match-fixing and corruption.
A brief explanation for non-Greeks – this is like arresting the head of the Premier League and Manchester United, dozens of players and other senior football officials in one swoop. It is a massive hammer blow against corruption. It is the cleaning of the Augean stables of Greek sport. Now of course, some of the people arrested will be found innocent, but Ms. Papandreou was backed, not only by the Greek state police but also by their national secret service. She had led this law enforcement team for 10-months and they produced a 124-page prosecution report to justify the arrests. And at the beginning of that report, Ms. Papendrou was kind enough to declare that ‘The Fix’ had been her intellectual guide to follow the trails of corruption in Greek sport.
Since the release of the prosecution report, I have been overwhelmed with requests from Greek media and this is why the complete copies of ‘The Fix’ are to be issued in a special edition of ‘Ethnos’. However, below is an excerpt from one of those interviews (in English) and for Greek speakers a link is here to another:
1) Are you surprised that Greece is so much involved in a case like this? If not, why?
Not particularly, Greek football has been renown for corruption for a long time.
2) Do you remember when it was the first time that you heard of Greece and set up games?
It was very commonplace to hear about fixed matches in Greek football. When I spoke to the fixers they discussed the sport in your country as if were the Balkans, a lawless place where the criminals ran the place and the good men were kept in the ditches.
3) Were you anxious by the fact that until now nothing had happened in Greece from the authorities?
I was not surprised that nothing had been done by the authorities. But I am now delighted that finally someone is standing up for Greek sports and showing courage to defend the future for your young people.
4) Could you remember a specific name of person or team that you heard during your research in Asia or in any other place?
The main focus of my research and my book was infiltrating a gang of fixers who travel to every single big international soccer tournament – the under-17 World Cup, the under-20 World Cup, the Women’s World Cup, the Olympic soccer tournament and the World Cup itself.
They have approached dozens of teams and hundreds of players and referees over the last twenty years. I got into the gang. I wore a hidden camera and taped some of their meetings. Then I exposed their activities in the book. So I could not spare any time to focus on any other leagues or matches, including Greece.
However, I do know that the fixers were at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and were approaching players and paying them. This has been confirmed not only by the fixers but by players and coaches at the tournament. It is all in the book.
5) All over he world, almost every day, we are informed for set up games… Is there a solution for that very big problem of sports?
Match-fixing is the biggest problem for sport. Once it loses credibility it is very difficult to regain it.
However, there are lots of ways to defend against corruption in sport. Ironically, it is very easy because corruption in sports happens right in front of people, unlike most corruption which occurs in locked rooms.
What we need now is an international anti-corruption agency, like the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), to fight against this international problem.
6) Do you consider Greece as one of the most corrupted country all over the world in sports?
Gosh no! The corruption in Greek sports may be quite bad (and remember some of the people who were arrested may be found innocent), however, it is nothing like the level of corruption in the Asian countries. There the politicians describe levels of corruption of over fifty percent of the matches being fixed. So it is more normal for a fan to see a fixed match than a normally played match.
Greece is bad, but it has not reached anywhere near those levels.
7) I would like to describe me your feelings by the time that those men of the Chinese betting baron, approached you, transferred you in front of him till the end? It was scary I suppose, but could you describe those feelings with words? And finally why did he do that with you? It was a power festival for him?
I remember the first time I met one of the fixers, it was at a private golf course late at night. He was on the phone getting information about fixes in a number different countries (including a possible one in the German Bundesliga). I was both terrified and fascinated. Finally, after an hour of conversation, I asked, ‘What is the biggest game you have ever fixed?’
He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know. Which is bigger the Olympics or the World Cup?’
I told him, very, very politely, that I did not believe that he could fix a match at such a high-level and he said, ‘Alright, watch me.’
This is the essential story of ‘The Fix’. How for the next few months I watched them as they held meetings to fix really top-level games.
8 ) Do you have an opinion about basketball… Is it corrupted as football?
I try not to speculate about sports when I do not have all the facts. What I say is controversial enough, so I need to guard my credibility and only speak about sports that I am an expert on.
9) What is the key point to set up a game? What is the procedure, I mean the way to do it? Players? Coaches? Presidents? Referees?
Imagine, that a fixer is like a spider in the centre of his web. The net goes in two directions, the first, is obviously into the sport – to players and referees, and sometimes club owners – to underperform and thus, lose their games. However, there is a second direction, that is into the gambling market. Good fixers have to hide their activities in the market otherwise the fix is too obvious. They employ companies and other people to disguise their fixing.
What does this mean in real life? Well, one of the myths about fixing is that it is always the strong team losing to a weak team and thus the fixer makes a big profit on the market. Actually, it is much more common for a fixer to fix a weak team playing against a strong team. Generally, weak teams are badly paid, so the players or club owners are cheaper. Generally, no one suspects anything if the weak team loses, so the odds in the market do not change. And generally, because it is cheap and no one has noticed you can fix these teams for years and get away with it.
10) Do you still research for the illegal betting mafia?
Yes, everyday I get tips and do interviews. It is a huge problem all over the world.
11) Would you like to send a message to our Greek Attorney, Ms Papandreou (32 years old only) who took over the case and did what many men attorneys never wanted or could, do?
She is a hero and should be congratulated by everyone who cares about Greek sport.
12) I know that one very close youth friend of yours was Greek? Could you describe me please what is the picture that you have for Greeks and if you could marry your picture with the fact that Greece is so much involved in illegal betting?
My best friend in High School was Greek. I visited Argos several times to see his family there. My Greek friends are honest, decent people who treated me like a second son. In those days they did not have a lot of money, but they gave me food, took me the hospital when I was sick and were very kind to me. I would not like to make any comparisons with them and the world of illegal gambling.
13) What do you thing is the best punishment for people who are arrested? Besides jail, sports punishments if their teams it’s necessary?
The people who fix matches should be banned for life from sport, no exceptions, no omissions. And we should take the time to explain to young players what a lifetime ban means – i.e,: they cannot even coach their children’s teams when they are playing in a match twenty-years on. Life means life. And a ban from all football means a ban from all, even amateur level, matches.
14) Would you recommend to UEFA, banning all Greek teams from European tournaments?
No, I would not. I think that Greece should be praised for trying to take on corruption. If the teams and leagues, give up the people who may have been involved in corruption, than I think they should be allowed to play in Europe and show to the world what Greece can do, when it is not hamstrung with corruption.
Stay tuned. In a few days, a report on what it is like inside the political and bureaucratic halls of power as the fight gears up against match-fixing.