Corruption rears its ugly head in beautiful game
Q: How worried should we be about corruption in top-flight football?
The simple answer is: very worried indeed.
There was a time in cycling when many journalists chose to ignore the well-founded suspicions of some, particularly of Irish reporter David Walsh, that American Lance Armstrong was a systematic doper. We now know that the allegations, insinuations and speculation about the seven-times Tour de France winner were all too accurate. He was a cheat and a fraud.
Football fans need to prepare themselves for the same sort of awakening on match-fixing as outlined in The Hague last Monday by Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency.
A major investigation involving Europol and police teams from 13 European countries uncovered an extensive criminal network involved in widespread football match-fixing.
A total of 425 match officials, club officials, players and serious criminals, from more than 15 countries, are suspected of being involved in attempts to fix more than 380 professional football matches.
According to Ron Noble, secretary general of Interpol, in the brave new world of massive online betting, match-fixing or “manipulation” has become a worldwide phenomenon.
Worse, as Europol indicated, the “manipulation” does not, as many had thought, exclusively involve low-level games. We are now talking Champions League and World Cup qualifier ties.
At least one of the two Champions League games mentioned by Europol was played in England.
This is not to say that all football is crooked, that all games are fixed, nor that English football has a chronic match-fixing problem. English football probably has fewer “manipulated” matches than anywhere else.
The point is that the long arm of organised crime, always looking for ways of making and laundering money, has struck at the heart of some “squeaky clean” countries in Europe. Otherwise, how do you explain documented match-fixing in England, Germany and Finland?
Last month, Fifa head of security, Ralf Mutschke, a 33-year veteran of the German police, told Reuters one of his informers had told him many organised crime units were now moving out of the drugs trade and into match-fixing because it represented lower risk, higher profit and a perfect money-laundering vehicle.
In Rome last month, Ron Noble of Interpol said some of the syndicates generated revenues equal to those of huge multinationals, such as Coca-Cola. He added that until there was some form of uniform international legislation on gambling on sports events, especially football, this remained a tough nut to crack.
Such legislation may be a long time coming . . . And you thought Lance Armstrong was bad.