Corruption in football? You can’t be serious!

Members of Europol reporting their corruption findings

Most media sources, particularly the sports networks across Europe have been reporting in the last 24 hours, the ‘breaking’ story that the European police agency (Europol) are investigating corruption in football, specifically match fixing.

You can’t be serious… corruption in football? – NEVER! (haha).

Corruption has been rife in all forms of sport for many years now, with many high profile cases recently coming out into the open in Athletics, Boxing and Cycling to name but a few, inclusive of the whole Lance Armstrong doping scenario, so why should football be any different? – This is nothing new is it?

As far back as 1994, a certain Bruce Grobbelaar, John Fashanu, Hans Segers and some foreign bloke called Heng Lim, were the first individuals connected within the sports world to be charged with ‘match-fixing’. That was a whole debacle in itself that went on for many, many years…Seven years to be precise! – Not only was the whole process laughable, but without wishing to appear contentious, it does show what good legal representation can achieve (I am only saying what others are thinking!) – Ultimately it resulted in ‘not guilty’ verdicts for all four charged – Whether you agree with the judicial system or not, if you are found not guilty, then that is the end… or is it?

Laughing Bruce Grobbelaar, ex Liverpool goalkeeper

Bruce Grobbelaar has the last laugh

Here is a little refresher : –

  • November 1994 – Sun newspaper publishes allegations that Grobbelaar took bribes to throw matches.
  • January 1997 – First trial at Winchester Crown Court. Jury deliberated for seven weeks and failed to reach a verdict.
  • August 1997 – Round two at Winchester Crown Court. All four found not guilty of conspiracy to fix matches. After a 10 week trial on a second charge against Grobbelaar alone, of accepting a £2,000 bribe, the jury is deadlocked. The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to press for a third trial and the trial Judge enters a verdict of not guilty.

Not content on leaving it alone, Grobbelaar (the muppet) decides in July 1999 to sue the Sun Newspaper for libel over the allegations they published back in 1994. He wins £85,000 damages.

In January 2001 he is stripped of the £85,000 award and branded as ‘corrupt’ by the Appeal Court unanimously over-tuning the libel jury’s verdict. Grobbelaar faced financial ruin with legal costs exceeding £1 Million pounds plus.

In October 2001, the House of Lords reinstates Grobbelaar’s libel victory on a technicality, but reduces his award to just £1 (definitely saved his bacon there!)

Sport gambling has become a huge pastime, particularly over the last ten years or so. Currently, you can bet on anything to do with a game, both pre-game and in-game betting, from how many corners in the first half, the second half, the whole game, how many throw-in’s, goals, first scorer, score at half-time, full time and how many times the number 3 in side ‘A’ scratches his nuts, what part of the pitch he chooses to scratch his nuts and at what time of the match he scratches his nuts. Even what hand he uses… and so on!

It is widely accepted that sports gambling is an industry all on its own in Asia and the Far-East, so it really should not come as any surprise as to who the main culprits are as to being accused here… Just saying!

Allegations…

So the latest allegations, as set out by Europol, really come as no bolt out of the blue bearing in mind the aforementioned. Being specific, the latest allegations are as follows:-

  • 680 matches across the world investigators say were fixed ranging across 30 separate counties.
  • 425 suspects have been identified
  • 50 people arrested
  • 80 search warrants obtained
  • Organised crime syndicate based in Asia co-ordinating the operation.
  • Initially involved Germany, Finland, Hungry, Slovenia and Austria.
  • Europol has revealed that a wide-ranging investigation into match fixing has uncovered more than 380 suspicious matches, inclusive of World Cup, European Championship qualifiers and two UEFA Champions League games… one apparently in England! (with a further 300 games in Africa, Asia and South America)
  • The Champions League game that took place in England was within the last three to four years (Although, Rob Wainwright of Europol has stated that “England was not a country particularly under scrutiny.”)
  • The probe has uncovered around £7Million in betting profits and £1.27 Million in bribes paid to players and officials (including referees) which has led to several prosecutions (although it has been kept very quiet it would appear).
  • In German-based matches alone, criminals waged £13.8 Million (16M Euros) on rigged matches and made some £6.9 Million in profits – Apparently, this is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

Champions League Game ‘Fixed’ in England…

Rob Wainwright, of Europol, stated that one game under investigation is a Champions League tie that took place in England ‘over the last three or four years’. It has been alleged today that the game in question is the tie between Liverpool v Debrecen in 2009, although this has not been confirmed by Europol at the time of writing this article, so it may be incorrect. However, it has been wildly reported by many sources that this is indeed the game in question.

A Champions League match footballDanish newspaper ‘Ekstra Bladet’ has printed an article that Europol are looking at Hungarian side Debrecen who lost 1-0 to Liverpool at Anfield. It has NOT been suggested that anyone at Liverpool was involved in any wrongdoing. It will be interesting to see what comes out in due course as to the allegations about that game.

Debrecen goalkeeper, Vukasin Poleksic, who played in that game, was banned in 2010 for a period of two years by UEFA for failing to report match-fixing activities involving a different game, or the suggestion he was approached about a throwing a game.

Liverpool FC have said today (Tuesday) (erm!) that they have received no contact from Europol. I am sure further reports will follow.

Both the FA and UEFA were apparently not made aware of the police match-fixing investigation into a Champions League game in England, although personally, I do not subscribe to the theory that UEFA had no knowledge… Platini has always been a bit of a worm hasn’t he? (…personal opinion, but that is a whole different discussion for another time!)

It is common knowledge that UEFA have been co-operating with the authorities against manipulation of matches as part of a zero-tolerance attitude towards match-fixing within football, so I am not quite sure how they didn’t know, or perhaps they are not prepared to admit they knew!

Frankly, I think that if these bodies, namely the FA and UEFA are meant to be the governing bodies of English and European football, then I feel they should have been notified as to any possible investigation, particularly in view of the serious nature and consequences.

Perhaps Europol were just being cautious in case someone within either the FA or UEFA may have had an involvement… (I am just voicing an opinion, not making any accusation…) although perhaps in fairness to Europol, maybe they truly did want to keep everything under wraps until they had the necessary proof to proceed further!

How were matches ‘fixed’?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that these gambling rings are ‘bribing’ players or officials to play badly or fix the results. Then, huge sums of money are wagered on the result. But it is not as simple as that when there are 11 players on each team, as it does need a certain amount of collusion, for obvious reasons. No matter what anyone says, no team (without exception) is a one man team, and even then, if that were to be the case, you are reliant on the ‘one’ so called player influencing the entire game in a biased way.

A football with a 1 Euro coinPolice say that gang members around the world were tasked with keeping contact with corrupt players and/or officials. A Hungarian prosecutor by the name of Laszlo Angeli has given an example of how things work… The Hungarian member, who was immediately below the Singapore head, was in constant contact with Hungarian referees who in turn attempted to swing matches where they were officiating around the world. Accomplices could then place bets via the internet or telephone with bookmakers in Asia and/or the Far East. Interestingly enough, Asia and the Far East would accept bets that may be illegal in Europe, so that made the process even bigger!

What player or official would want to throw a game? – Picture the scenario that you are a third division player in say Finland (just using this as a hypothetical scenario!) – You earn as a player or official, £100 per week and you are given the opportunity of making £10,000. So you do it once and get away with it… You’re going to do it again etc…

It is interesting to note that although specific information has not as yet been released, it has been reported that the largest payment made was to an individual in Austria for a total of a little over £120,000.

It has also been reported that referee’s would award penalties that were not penalties, or deny goals as offside when they clearly weren’t. That opens up a whole can of worms for many supporters as we all see ‘human error’ week in, week out both in the Premier League and European leagues where blatant penalties are denied or clear goals are ruled offside…

That however just makes this whole match-fixing problem put further doubt into supporter’s minds. Just watch the forthcoming weeks and mark my word, someone, somewhere will no doubt question ‘corruption’ the next time a clear goal is ruled offside, or penalty refused. Also watch if a Hungarian referee is appointed for a Champions League or European/World Cup qualifier match and see the reaction… It is going to have a snowball effect that is going to cause all sorts of consternation – Just watch!

Opinion…

FIFA’s head of security, Ralf Mutschke has been quoted as saying “prison sentences for fixing need to be tougher’” (I agree) He also said :

[quote]“In football, a national association can sanction a member of the football family if they are found guilty of contravening the legal, football framework.”[/quote]

FIFA’s disciplinary process does provide the opportunity and provision to extend sanctions, and impose a life-time ban. Maybe Mr Blatter needs to take note!

FIFA chief Sepp Blatter scratches his head

Sepp Blatter, definitely not corrupt

Any genuine football fan, no matter what your personal alliance, enjoys the beautiful game we have all come to love. The derby’s, the rivalry, the surprises of the big boys getting beaten, the FA Cup, Champions League, Europa League (particularly if you are a spuds fan!) and so on… Match fixing takes all of that away and puts ‘our’ game at risk of extinction… Dramatic? – I don’t think so!

– Unless match-fixing is dealt with now, how will we really ever know if someone somewhere has a hand in ‘fixing’ a game? Despite the huge wages that Premier League and many European players receive, if the reward is high enough, someone, somewhere, will succumb to the greed of the money to be made… Unfortunately, that is a hard fact of life, no matter how we all want to believe otherwise!

I personally think that anyone found guilty of fixing a game or having any involvement in any part of the process of fixing a game, no matter how small, they SHOULD be banned for life from ANY part of football. Whether it is as player, an official, or a football executive, they should be prevented from having any involvement in the sport in any way, including attending any stadium… ever! – Of course, they also need to be locked up and have their assets seized that may have been bought with ‘corrupt bribes/winnings’, but until there is a change in the criminal law, unfortunately that is not going to happen…

Happy Days…

By
Jeremy is an avid soccer fan and life long season ticket holding Arsenal ‘mad gooner’ supporter. Although his bias is towards Arsenal, he is big enough to comment on all teams both here in the UK and Europe… whether good or bad! - He regularly ‘tweets’ on all things Arsenal together with football issues and sport in general. He definitely loves a bit of banter too! - You can follow Jeremy on twitter: @jeremylebor
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