Posts Tagged ‘match fixing’

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.

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.

**

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.

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.

The Great Debate

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Over the next few weeks in Brussels there is an important debate taking place on the future of gambling in Europe.  On one side are the private gambling companies: some of them the big British bookmakers like William Hill, Ladbrokes and Paddy Power, some of them based on the internet like Betfair.  On the other side are the national sports lotteries owned or at least run for, the governments of many European countries.  They are both lobbying legislators hard to vote their way.

At the moment, in many countries the only way a bettor can place a bet legally is with one of these national lotteries.  The private gambling companies say, in effect, “Hang on!  We are in a common market. The whole idea is that companies from one country are supposed to operate freely in another country. And you are stopping us from operating.”

The national lotteries on the other side have been lobbying politicians hard saying, “Ah yes, but gambling is different.  Gambling, at least the way the private companies practice it, leads to high rates of addiction, corruption and match-fixing. To protect the sport you must stop them from entering your countries.”

Who is right?

Well, like most hard-fought arguments, they are both, to some degree, right.  The private companies are being restricted from practicing their trade.  On the other hand, the more gambling that is available, the more gambling addiction there will be.  What is more complicated is the role of match-fixing in this whole debate.

Here are a couple of facts.  No self-respecting match-fixer ever tried to fix a game using a national sports lottery.  There are two stages in fixing a match: the first is the actual bribing of the referee or the players; the second is the fixing of the gambling market a little like perpetrating a stock market fraud.  The ‘stock market’ of a European national sports lottery is simply too restricted to allow any fixer to use them.

However, the claim that match-fixing would not exist without the private gambling companies is an overstatement.   Bernard Tapie and Luciano Moggi were attempting to fix matches,  without any connection to private gambling companies.  The great South African cricket player Hansie Cronje said much the same thing in his confession after he was caught working with an Indian bookie to fix matches, “As long as there is gambling on sporting events — legal or otherwise — players will continue to be approached, pressured and tempted.”

The key phrase in Cronje confession is, of course, “legal or otherwise”.  The bookmakers where most of the fixers place their bets are in the illegal Asian gambling market. This betting market is far, far larger than any legal gambling market in the world.   There a fixer can place large sums of money on almost any game, almost always anonymously.  Until we get proper oversight on this market, then the fixing of European football matches will continue, regardless of all the talk in Brussels.

The Tipping Point – Author’s note

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Last month, I was in Munich at a conference with the great Joe Pistone, aka: Donnie Brasco, the undercover informant who helped break the New York mob.  But the media did not particularly want to talk about his work or my book, rather they were interested in the possibility that Bayern Munich may have fixed the UEFA Cup semi-final match against Zenit St. Petersburg, which is what Baltasar Garzon the Spanish prosecutor claimed may have occurred according to transcripts of Russian mobsters.

After Munich, I went to Denmark to launch the book in Copenhagen.  What did journalists there want to talk about?  The possibility that the European Championship qualifying match between Malta and Denmark had been fixed.    A Danish newspaper had received a tip that there had been something odd going on and so many of the questions were about that match.

I returned to London and many people were obsessed with the possibility of problems around the Norwich versus Derby match.  Then I get a copy of a two-page review of the book in the French newspaper – Libération.  The writer says, in essence, “Dr. Hill has written a good book, but, poor fellow, he is so naïve.  He thinks that the Final of the Champions League in 2005 between AC Milan versus Liverpool was an example of the greatness of football and the human spirit.  We received a phone call from a source on the Asian gambling market who told us that match was fixed.”

The point is not that any of these matches were actually fixed – I know nothing more than what was in the newspaper about them, and frankly, think the Liberation guys were being naïve themselves – it is that the culture of European football is reaching a tipping point.  There is a shift in the culture of football going on.  Any of these stories would have seemed unbelievable two years ago.  But once the public and the media starts to have these conversations it does not matter how many of them are actually true.  It is the beginning of the end.  It eats away at the credibility of the game.  It may not happen tomorrow or this season, but the decline of football will come.

Think about cycling five or ten years ago, it was unthinkable that the sport would have any problems.  However, two weeks ago the organizers of the Tour of Stuttgart, a multi-million Euro bike race, canceled the competition.  They claimed that after a long series of failed drug tests, the sport had such a bad image problem it was not worth holding the race.

If football is not to go the same way cycling is going, the Football Associations must be seen to be doing something rigorous to stop match-fixing.  This brings me to the FIFA conference on match corruption and gambling to be held in Zurich on Monday November 10th.  I have not been invited.  This is ridiculous.  At the moment, no one in football knows more about match-fixing than I do (except for the fixers).  So who do they have speaking?  Well, the organizers announced that Franz Beckenbauer would be there.  This is about as useful as having me give a presentation on defensive formations for the German national team.  It is just silly.  Football needs the Associations to wake up to the real dangers posed by match-fixing and not engage in shallow exercises in marketing.

The Week That Was…

Monday, October 6th, 2008

It has been one of those weeks for football.

It began well.

Over last weekend, the boffins at UEFA announced that they were setting up their own security branch to help police the game.   This is a reform that I have called for in the book and in all my subsequent media interviews.  The idea is simple, it is what all North American sports bodies have:  a department of former high-ranking police officers who have the capabilities, the connections and the cojones to make sure the game is safe.   Nothing against football administrators, but at their best that is what they are good at – administering football.  However, they simply do not have the experience to deal with the criminal thugs who are entering the game in increasing numbers.  So a well-staffed, well-resourced security department is an excellent initiative.

I think that my book and all the controversy around it was a significant tipping point in getting the UEFA officials to set up a security body.   Certainly, that is what I was told by some of my sources at UEFA, but frankly, I am simply so happy to see some positive changes in protecting the sport that I don’t care.

I am not sure what UEFA’s new security department will look like.  I hope that is well-staffed and well-resourced.   We will see.  But at least it is a beginning that indicates that UEFA knows they have a problem of well-organized match-fixing on their hands.  It is a complete contrast with the attitude of UEFA’s rival organization FIFA – whose response to any threats from gambling fixers has been to bury their collective head in the sand.

Then the bad news came.   Early Wednesday morning we heard about the alleged Zenit St. Petersburg case.  Essentially, a Spanish judicial investigation led by Baltasar Garzon, the prosecutor who indicted Pinochet in the UK, discovered the Godfather of the St. Petersburg Tambovskaya Mafia and his second-in-command boasting about fixing the Semi-Final and Final of the 2008 UEFA Cup for 40 million Euro.

What to make of it?

This is an investigation led by Garzon, not a man to do shoddy work.  He has the mobsters “live” -  talking on the phone to associates.  This type of evidence is often the best form possible (one of the reasons, mob-associated lawyers fought for so long to keep it out of  U.S. and Canadian courts).  However, until the tapes are released we do not know if the Godfather and his associates were simply boasting or actually providing firm details of any possible fix.

What should be done?

An immediate investigation by the Munich and Glasgow police should be established to aid Garzon.   This is a very, very important case and it should not be allowed to go away because the police will not support it.