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Dear Friends of Football

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

I have not put anything on the blog for a few months. This is because I have been working on a new, updated version of ‘The Fix’. It will be coming out in a few weeks and will have a new chapter, and a full press story accompanying it. It should be out April 17… please stay tuned. Or you can order advance copies from Amazon.

However, in the last week there have been new developments in a number of countries including China (FIFA referee facing a possible death sentence for fixing), Turkey (46 people arrested for fixing), Belgium (does it ever stop in that country?) and Italy. I have been interviewed by EPL Talk, the BBC World Service and Noel Butler’s superb ‘Oranges @ Half-Time’ but many other journalists have written articles that have simply been a review of some of the different cases. This is to spectacularly miss the point of what we are witnessing.

So for interested journalists – here is the headline:

There has always been fixing and corruption in sports. In the ancient Olympics outside the stadium there were statues put up with fines by the athletes caught cheating. However, what we are seeing now is fixing at an astronomical level. It is an utterly new phenomenon in match-corruption. It is transforming sports and gambling in the same way that the Internet transformed the music industry. Here is how it works.

Fifteen years ago, the gambling markets of Asia, Europe, North America and the rest of the world were mostly separate. Now with the Internet and international television broadcasts they have come together. A gambler in Shanghai can place a bet on a youth-level football game in Denmark on a bookmaker’s website based in Malta. Many Asian bettors are choosing to do this, because their own leagues have been so destroyed by fixing. (Estimates on how many matches are fixed in Asian football leagues go as high as 70%. Even the Chinese President Hu Jintao has declared that corruption in football is a national problem.) This means that the power of the Asian gambling market – it is far, far, far larger than the other gambling markets combined – is now being applied on tiny matches in obscure leagues in relatively unimportant countries. It means that for criminals it is worth fixing games that before would not have been worth even listing on their gambling websites. It means that the sport is in serious trouble unless football authorities start to put in measures to protect it from this new form of corruption.

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A final note – after the news of the German Police investigation there was this New York Times interview that may be of interest to people who want to understand the technical details of fixing a football match.

So what are they actually doing?

Friday, November 27th, 2009

This continues to be the best news in football for years. Full congratulations to the German police and UEFA.

However, one question has to be answered: what are the national football associations actually going to do about corruption?

You can see them now, in their press conferences and statements to the press, jostling around trying to escape doing anything about match-corruption. ‘We did not know anything about all this match-fixing going on in our leagues! We are completely surprised! (Really? I did. I even wrote a book about it. Why didn’t you read it?) Nothing we can do,’ they say, ‘We do not want to upset an on-going investigation. This is beyond our expertise. We are football administrators, not policemen.’ Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It is all crap.

They can do something about match-fixing; they should do something about match-fixing and they must do something about match-fixing.

Here are a few suggestions:

1) More integrity units.

Every Football Association in the world should have an integrity unit staffed with honest ex-policemen, gambling experts and football insiders. It is not possible for the unit in UEFA alone to do all the work. Football Associations run national industries worth, in some cases, billions of dollars. It beggars belief that they do not have their own security units. Can you imagine a similar sized Fortune 500 Company not having an internal security unit? No, of course not.

  1. A proper system of reporting corrupt approaches.

Imagine – you are professional football player in some European league. A criminal approaches you to fix a game. What do you do now? Who do you report it to? Especially, as the corruptors are really, really good at this type of approach. They know what to say. And usually, they will say something that isolates a player from the rest of the team, ‘You do know that your coach is on our payroll.’ Or ‘We control your team owner. He gets his cash from us.’ In the best case, these kind of statements are untrue but they put doubt in a player’s mind. In many cases, they are actually true and remind the player that if tells anyone he may face some very serious consequences.

What to do? Establish an independent security unit with a hotline telephone number that every player and coach knows they must call if approached to fix. This is what the Danish Football Association has done.

  1. Pro-active reporting.

This is the rule in professional tennis. If a player is approached by a corruptor they must report the incident. The fixers have to know that every time they approach players they are at risk of being turned in.

There are dozens more ways of prevent more fixing. Watch in the next few weeks to see if the football associations are actually doing anything concrete. Until you see any reforms take place, you will know that all the words of the national associations are exactly that – words – and once this current scandal is over corruption will creep back into the game.

I told you so

Friday, November 20th, 2009

This is superb news. Finally, a proper, well-resourced investigation into corruption in match-fixing in European football. The UEFA investigation unit was started, partly, because of the book. Certainly, I was flown to Geneva to speak to officials about the structure of the organization. Now, I am very pleased to see that it has produced such strong results. Great, great news.

I have two hopes for the outcome of the investigation:

  1. There have been a number of other investigations into match-fixing that have started with lots of publicity, strong calls of a major clean-up and multiple arrests: Portugal – the Pinto da Costa case, Germany – the Hoyzer case, France – the Tapie case. Then the authorities find one person, dump all the cases onto them and construct ‘conspiracies of one’ rather than uprooting the essential corrupt structure within the game. Journalists and fans should stay on top of this case, to ensure that this does not happen again.

  1. When the convictions happen, the authorities should make sure that the penalties are the harshest possible. There should be a clear signal sent out to the players, referees and officials that this will not be tolerated in the sport that we love.

FRANKFURT (AP) — German police have arrested an undisclosed number of people suspected of fixing matches in major European soccer leagues.
The arrests, in Germany and abroad, came as part of an investigation into match-fixing supported by UEFA, according to a statement by the prosecutor’s office in Bochum.
A Berlin newspaper reported that a Croatian man convicted as the mastermind of a German match-fixing scandal in 2005 was among those arrested Thursday. The Berliner Morgenpost’s online edition said Ante Sapina and his brother were among five people arrested in Berlin and that 15 arrest warrants in 10 countrties had been issued.
The investigation has been under way since the beginning of the year and targeted an international gang suspected of wide-ranging match-fixing.
The gang is suspected of bribing players, coaches, referees and officials in “high-ranking European leagues” to manipulate games in order to make money on betting, the statement said Thursday.
It said raids were conducted in Germany and Europe on Thursday and a large number of arrests were made. A news conference is scheduled for Friday in Bochum.
UEFA said it was aware of Thursday’s arrests, adding that it had been “working closely with German authorities through its betting fraud detection system for monitoring irregular betting patterns.”
The Morgenpost reported that games in the Turkish top division were suspected of being manipulated and that the probe by Bochum investigators targeted 200 people. Top players in Turkey are among the suspects, the newspaper said.
Quoting Berlin security sources, the newspaper said the gang apparently operated from Germany and its boss apparently lived in Berlin.
Ante Sapina was convicted of fraud in 2005 and sentenced to 35 months in prison for fixing or attempting to fix 23 games by paying German referee Robert Hoyzer to rig matches Sapina and his brothers bet on. Ante Sapina’s brothers Milan and Filip were given suspended sentences.
Hoyzer was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 29 months in prison after admitting he had manipulated games mostly in German lower divisions on behalf of the three brothers, who made millions by betting on the games.
UEFA said two months ago it was investigating 40 cases of suspected match-fixing in the Champions League and UEFA Cup, mostly involving eastern European clubs. The matches under investigation were early qualifying games that took place over the last four seasons.
UEFA has beefed up its efforts to protect against illegal betting and match-fixing. President Michel Platini has described those issues as the greatest problem facing European soccer.
The detection system monitors all top two divisions across Europe and domestic cup games.

A Tale of Two Football Associations

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

October 22nd and 23rd ‘Doorgestoken Kaart’, the Dutch/Flemish version of ‘The Fix’ was released. I was in Amsterdam and then Brussels to do media interviews. The interviews were mostly related to new updates. That is the week before I had a long and fascinating interview with a prominent Asian gambling expert in Bangkok. He had told me that there was still fixing going in the Belgian and Dutch leagues. I was surprised. I knew about the Ye Zheyun case, but when I mentioned it to him he looked at me and said, ‘I’m not talking about five years ago, I’m talking about the last couple of weeks.’ He mentioned some clubs in the lower half of the Belgian and Dutch Premier Leagues that he claimed were fixing matches away from home, betting against themselves on the gambling market and then using the money that they won to keep their clubs afloat.

I told this to the Dutch and Belgian journalists who came to interview me. They asked lots of tough, hard questions and then many of them chose to lead their articles with this story and it received a lot of prominence in the media.

However, what happened next is a textbook case of one football association doing everything right and another football association doing everything wrong. The Dutch Football Association was brilliant. They had already expressed a strong interest in ‘Doorgestoken kaart’. The CEO Henk Kesler and other executives had ordered 16 copies of the book for their staff and told them to read it. Essentially, he was saying, ‘Look we don’t know if Hill is right but we should at least know what he is saying.’ Then the Dutch FA heard the latest developments about possible fixing in their league and immediately flew two of their executives over to London to have a meeting with me at a hotel near Heathrow Airport. Nor were the Dutch Football Association the only ones to move quickly, a number of Dutch fans contacted me and then began filming the Chinese gamblers who were monitoring their clubs. In all, a superb response from the Netherlands to difficult news.

The Belgian Football Association’s reaction, however, has been an absolute disaster. Most of their officials have not read the book, which is a mistake because it shows how the industry that is threatening their league is structured. But those officials still choose to criticize it and me in the media for raising the question that there may still be corruption in Belgian football. They have done little except bury their heads further in the sand. If there were an Olympic contest for the laziest sporting executives in the world, surely the Belgian Football Association would be perennial gold medal contenders.

If you were a fixer, which league would you prefer to work in: one that is pro-active and interested in fighting corruption or one that is doing its best to deny that there are any problems? I am not a gambler, but if I were, I would make a strong bet on the Dutch league being in much better shape in five years time and the Belgian game becoming more of a fiasco than it is now.

MUFC Appeal to friends of Mathare Utd

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Dear Friends,

As many people know from the book – I am a fan of the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA). They are a fantastic organization and deserve (and have received) phenomenal help. Their latest appeal is slightly odd – I enclose it below – but if readers feel inclined I can think of no better football club in the world to give your support to.

Declan

……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Dear friends,

RE: APPEAL TO FRIENDS OF MATHARE UNITED

Your favourite football club, Mathare United, and the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) which our club helped create and build over the last few years, are now some of the few “good news” stories in the media these days.

However, a main reason I resigned earlier this year as KPL Chairman was to re-focus more time and energy on MYSA and Mathare United (MUFC). After many years of dedicating more time to KPL than to my own club, Mathare United was and frankly still is struggling to survive financially, especially as many local companies are also struggling in our depressed economy. Many companies are also understandably reluctant to invest in football because of the sad wrangles in our national football association. As usual, it is our clubs and players who suffer most as that harms our chances of attracting new corporate sponsors.

I have another problem that many club chairmen would like to have: our players keep winning.

After losing a few key players to clubs abroad, our team had a difficult start this year. But several talented new players, all from the Mathare slums as is still our policy, helped strengthen the team during the mid-season transfer window. Since then our team has not lost a single match, has rapidly climbed up to third place and is again contending for the Premier League title we won last year. That demonstrates the special loyalty and commitment of our players because, while we managed to pay their basic salaries for their community service and training performance this year, they have not yet received their full match bonuses.

That is why I am appealing to our long-time friends and supporters to help ensure the players get the bonuses they earned and deserve. So, in addition to continuing to knock on the still largely closed doors of local companies, our club is launching a new fundraising initiative among our friends and supporters.

Attached are some 1-page summaries on the history, performance and achievements of our team plus a chart showing the new categories and benefits for individual supporters. Note that the benefits start immediately and continue through the next season until December 2010.

Although this new fundraising campaign started only a few weeks ago, already eight Mathare United friends have kindly signed up for the MUFC 100 Club.

I and our coaches and players would really appreciate it if you would kindly consider joining the MUFC 100 Club as well. But whatever option you choose, we will be grateful if you would transfer the relevant amount to the MUFC account as soon as possible (see account details below).

We are also now rebuilding and will soon re-launch a new, more informative and regularly updated Mathare United website. So even if you are unable to assist now, you will still be able to keep track of the performance and achievements of your team and favourite players better in the future.

If there are other friends who might be interested in supporting our club, please forward this e-mail to them.

With thanks and best wishes,
Bob

R. D. Munro
Chairman
Mathare United FC
Box 63786 Nairobi 00619 Kenya
Mobile 254-722-878787

Comments on the IOC Sports Monitoring Unit

Monday, October 5th, 2009

For all media looking for thoughts on the announcement of the International Olympic Movement setting up a relationship with a commercial company to monitor irregular betting on sports events.

1)    A good start.

2)    Almost useless in protecting sport (See below).

Why?  Because the really bad boy fixers are still betting on the Asian illegal gambling market.  The monitoring unit is still mostly focused on the legal European and North American gambling sites.   This means that although they can monitor the live odds on an event, they cannot know which punters are making the odds change or the amount of money coming on to events with any precision.

Two, okay they discover irregular betting.  Now what?   Does this commercial company have detectives ready to investigate?   Does the IOC have an integrity unit ready to spring into action?   What sanctions are in place for athletes or their coaches, agents or family members if they are caught placing bets?  How can they be traced?

I did a study while at Oxford on ways that fixed football matches were detected, in less than 20% of the cases was the corruption detected by irregular odds changes.  So in all, this is a good start, but it does not go far enough.

Match-Fixing and English Sports Journalists

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

I am on another research trip, so for all the media people who are contacting me for comments about either the alleged fix in the lower Scottish divisions or the announcement that UEFA is investigating a possible 40 fixed matches in the Champions League:

1)I told you so.

2)You haven’t seen anything yet. It is only going to get worse.

Lots of interviews from places like Sweden, South Korea, Belgium.  The journalists invariably have a question like, “But these incidents are happening in such lowly matches, that we don’t even care about them! They are in the semi-regional third division games.”   Listen, the gambling market is so huge that there is a way of profiting on almost any match.  The lower the level of the match the easier it is to fix.  10,000 euros, pounds or dollars can buy a lot of influence very quickly in those leagues.

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As the UK reels from yet another controversy of odd bet movements, some football fans may stop and wonder why they had not heard of these issues before.  Indeed all football fans should stop and ask the media why they have not heard of the dangers of match-corruption before now.  I have been speaking about the dangers since 2005, the book has been out on the market for over a year.  It is a best-seller in Canada, Germany, France and a number of other countries.  Yet, there is not much publicity in the UK.    The book explains how the illegal gambling market works, it shows how the fixes are performed, it identifies a number of top international matches that I believe were corrupted.  I even outline how the sport that we all love can be protected.

A small indication of why English sports journalism is, generally, so bad was given by a recent article by Patrick Barclay of the Times.  He writes of an interview twelve years ago with the then England and Arsenal striker Ian Wright.  In the interview, Wright basically said that he would fall down for his country or fake a penalty if he were playing for England.  After the interview Barclay writes:

…as part of a group of Sunday-paper journalists who had interviewed him [Wright] after training at Bisham Abbey, I looked forward to publishing his views. That was until my colleagues were approached by the FA press department and agreed, after a near-unanimous vote, to suppress the supposedly explosive material. In such circumstances, you don’t break ranks, but to this day I feel guilty about selling the readers short. Or, as you might say, cheating them.

Ummm… it is called collusion. It is called complicity. It is called cowardly. It is called a lot of other things, but it is not journalism.    And remember Patrick Barclay is one of the best journalists. He, at least, has the decency to feel badly.  He, at least, had the decency to vote against a cover-up.  The rest of these little creeps actually voted for censorship.  These purported professionals working for rival news organizations all got together and agreed not to print news because an official asked them not to.   There was no higher moral purpose, no grieving relative, no hapless kidnap victim to protect, just a whole lot of inappropriate chumminess.

This kind of deliberate inaptitude extends to English sports journalists’ attempts to cover corruption. First, most of them are not competent enough to do the necessary journalism. Second, they have no wish to find out about possible corruption.  And third, if they did stumble upon corruption (Hint: try interviewing a player by yourself. You might be surprised at what they tell you.) they would not know what to do without the rest of the pack telling them.

One more note.  I write of the general incompetence and complicity of UK sports journalism. There are a number of good English sports journalists.  Unfortunately, they truly are the exception in their industry.

Back from a Research Trip

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Greetings to all interested football fans. My apologies for the length of time in posting a new blog. I am just back from a long research trip working on the next book and then a holiday. So here is a small selection of thoughts and work that have come up in the last few months:

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I know nothing about the Chelsea versus Barcelona Champions League Semi-Final! Within minutes of the final whistle my inbox was flooded with requests for information. I did not see the game, except the highlights the next day, and have nothing to say. This, by the way, is my attitude when people approach me with questions on most matches. In the book and elsewhere, I have identified some very high-profile international matches where in my opinion there was something very corrupt going on. I have that belief because I spent years researching the background, the players, the officials and the fixers. However, I know that is controversial stuff so to maintain my credibility I try hard not to comment or speculate on games where I have no inside information.

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Here is link to a very well-written and interesting article from a young American – Tyler Matthews – playing in a minor league tournament in Ghana. Great insight from someone so young, and it certainly matches some of what I saw, sadly, in the football leagues there.

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Outrageous. Stupid. A disaster for North American sports journalism. Those were my feelings when I saw that Steven Cohen had been pulled from his position on Fox Football Fone-in.

For the people who don’t know the background, here is a quick update.

Cohen is a broadcaster out of Los Angeles who covers football. A few months ago he made a number of comments about the 1989 Hillsborough disaster where 96 Liverpool fans died thanks to official incompetence. He said that part of the blame should be attributed to drunken fans turning up without tickets. Cohen was wrong, but for his error he faced an organized boycott of his program by Liverpool fans and a number of e-mails calling for the kidnapping of his children and his own murder.

I also received a number of mostly polite e-mails from Liverpool fans requesting that I ask my publisher to stop advertising on Cohen’s program.

This is sad. I like the Liverpool Football Club. In the book I write of a number of fantastic evenings spent with the Liverpool fan club in Singapore after they won that extraordinary Champions League Final in Istanbul. I wrote of meeting and spending a really cordial time with Ian Rush and I mention the Grobbelaar trials. However, I did not ask my publisher to withdraw their support and I think that the firing of Cohen is an unmitigated fiasco. Here is why:

In general, North American sports journalism is an oxymoron. Most journalists are so-beholden to the teams, sponsors or sports associations that they will not even begin to ask difficult questions let alone broadcast them. Since the publication of the book, a number of journalists have told me of their frustration of trying to raise the issues of corruption in sports. Their colleagues and bosses will simply not allow any discussion of these really important questions.

Steven Cohen is not like that. He is one of the few North American journalists who has the courage to speak his mind and voice difficult opinions. In this case Cohen was wrong (Check the interim Taylor Report, paragraphs 194-212, to see why. But I do think he should have the capacity to say what he thinks. Any individual, sponsor or organization who withdraws their support for someone who genuinely speaks their mind, particularly because they think they will get more money from doing so, is not worth their professional salt and should not be trusted. Football fans, no matter what team they support need someone who is unafraid to explore all issues – and the removal of Cohen, sends a chilling message throughout sports journalism that only the banal, safe and corporate friendly views are welcome on the air waves.

As for the death threats addressed to Cohen by a few idiot fans, this is simply not on. I hope the Liverpool fan clubs are finding and condemning these people in their ranks as quickly and successfully as they organized the boycott of Cohen.

FK Pobeda and the future of sport

Friday, April 17th, 2009

The time has been short, the list of cases long.

Bulgaria, China (badminton), Denmark (handball), Denmark (football), England, Germany (football), Germany (handball), Holland, Hong Kong, Malta, Malaysia, Monaco (tennis), Poland, Italy, Romania, Russia, Scotland, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan (baseball), and now, Macedonia.

Seven months, nineteen countries, five sports. This is a list of suspected scandals involving match-fixing in sport since the publication of ‘The Fix’.   To be fair, a number of these cases have not been fully investigated.  There have been some sensational headlines, a brief announcement, then the police or sporting authorities have claimed ‘there is not enough evidence to investigate them.’ Which begs the question, how do you know there is not enough evidence if you don’t investigate?

But today, there is a ray of hope.  UEFA has announced an eight-year ban on the Macedonian football club, FK Pobeda.

It is a good start.

However, there are a couple of things for football fans to watch.

One, the Macedonian club gets to appeal the sentence and if it follows the typical Italian sentencing of corruption in football, we will see these sentences much reduced. They should not be.  There is an old story about the law.  The convict is sentenced to death for stealing a horse.  He appeals to the judge, “Come on, your Lordship, I just stole a horse!”   The judge replies, “I am not hanging you for stealing a horse.  I am hanging you to stop other people from stealing horses.”

This is one of those cases where the sentence is not just about punishing the crime, it is about giving a clear, definite signal that match-fixing will not be tolerated at any level.

Two, that there is corruption in the Macedonian league comes as no surprise to anyone.  Now will UEFA have the nerve to go after bigger clubs in bigger leagues?

Three, will UEFA establish a few, very basic, defences to the sport?

Here is one example.  For those non-fans of Danish and German handball, the cases there involve referees being approached to fix games. In Germany, the referees discovered 50,000 Euro had been put in their luggage, only when going through airport security.

They bring up a question relevant to football.   What does a referee do in a case like this?  If someone approaches them to bribe a game, who do they go to?  The local football association?  They are often in on the fix.   UEFA?    Hmmmmmm…

The problem with UEFA is that it is a house with many rooms in it.  Many of those rooms have very honest, decent people in them.  But some of those rooms contain people that no referee would ever want to report a bribe attempt to.   So their new security department should be established absolutely independently of the UEFA hierarchy.  It should report directly to Platini and no one else.  Anything else, and despite the Macedonian verdict, football will be back to corruption and the list of suspected cases will keep growing.

A Good Start

Friday, March 27th, 2009

First of all, this is excellent news.  The announcement yesterday by UEFA that they are actually holding their own judicial inquiry into a Champions League match is the best news in the battle against corruption in football for some time.  It is one of the initiatives that I have been pressing for since the publication of the book.

Does it go far enough?  No. But Michel Platini in his declaration that “match-fixing is the most serious problem facing the sport” shows that he understands exactly the nature of the problem.

Before we go any further: a declaration.  In October, at their invitation, I met with UEFA officials and discussed their proposal for a new investigation unit.  I did not accept any money from them, except for travel expenses, but at the end of the meeting, it was felt by both sides that it was too early in the process to work together.

A couple of points:

It is obvious that UEFA have picked on an obscure game from a relatively obscure league and country.  No insult to the Macedonians but the revelation that there may be fixing in Macedonia will not come as a great surprise to anyone.  However, this is, hopefully, the first case of a series of high-profile investigations.  UEFA cannot afford to fail too publicly in their first case against match-fixing.  They must choose the case that they have greatest chance of success to proceed with first.

Two, the performance of the FK Pobeda game, if it was fixed, does follow an increasingly common practice in fixing matches.  The fixers are trying to maximize profit on the gambling market.   In the book, I show some of my research into how players and referees perform fixed matches. For example, I identify a pattern of goals being scored early in the game to establish the fix.  When I began the research I thought the results would be the exact opposite: fixes would happen in the last ten minutes of the game. After all the cliché is the crooked players or referee trying frantically to score an own goal or give away a penalty in the last few minutes.  But the data indicates that for successful fixes the players and referees want to get it done quickly so will try to give away goals as early in the game as possible.

However, recently fixers have been moving towards another pattern where one team will score their goals in the first half, with the other team score their goals in the second half.  The growth of this phenomenon is because of a relatively new trend of live betting on matches, so the fixers can make money betting on both the half-time score and the full-time score.  This can increase their profit in a massive way.  Of course, this is not conclusive proof that the FK Pobeda game was fixed — only the UEFA tribunal on April 17 will be able to determine that one way or another.

Finally, if this news is “a good start”, what more can UEFA do to stop match-fixing?   I will deal with that issue in a blog posting next week.