February 8 update: U.S. soccer fans might not be looking at just an "over there" problem anymore. ESPN's Brett Forrest reports he was told of Gold Cup match fixing as early as last April.
As a writer with a focus on U.S. Soccer, here on the eve of the hexagonal opener for CONCACAF qualification to the 2014 World Cup, I never imagined the topic of my scribbling to be anything other than the outlook for the USMNT in Honduras.
Today, that story pales in comparison. Today, fans of the beautiful game were hit by an ugly reality, with the release of a Europol report on widespread investigations into match-fixing.
This article will not go into the known details of that investigation. If you are reading this, you probably already have read those details. Instead, it will attempt to frame this issue for what it is, rather than what it is not.
If the allegations are true, the situation as a whole is not analogous to individual athletes cheating via performance-enhancing drugs.
This is so for two reasons. First, those are the cheatings of individual athletes, trying to further their individual careers. Second, performance-enhancing drugs are meant, as the name implies, to improve performance. They are cheating to win.
As bad as that is—and it is bad—this Europol investigation is focused on something even more vile and potentially more damaging to sports. Americans inherently know this. Perhaps the rest of the world is about to learn the same.
American sports history is incomplete without an accounting of the 1919 World Series. Despite the misleading name, that contest pitted the Chicago White Sox against the Cincinnati Reds to determine the best baseball team in the United States.
As Americans painfully learned, no such determination was made, because the "Black Sox" intentionally lost the series.
Players conspired with gamblers and cheated to lose.
Cheating to win does not guarantee a win. Cheating to lose pretty much does guarantee a loss.
The fallout was extraordinary, with players banned for life. It birthed an American sports culture, still alive today, of doing anything and everything possible to keep the walls intact between athletes and the gambling industry.
That reaction was necessary to save the game of baseball. If these allegations are true, a similar fallout and reaction will be necessary to save world football.
"Say it ain't so, Sepp."
The game cannot survive with rampant suspicions that results are preordained. Fans will not financially support existing structures of competition if those suspicions now are not met head on with an overtly apparent atmosphere of zero tolerance.
World football needs its equivalent of the man appointed commissioner of baseball in response to that World Series scandal. He was the man who banned eight of the greatest baseball players of their time for life.
World football needs its Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
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