Earlier this month, Europol—the European Union’s police force based in The Hague—announced that an investigation into match fixing in football had revealed more than 380 matches suspected of being toxic.
The investigation, pursued from July 2011 to January 2013, involved cooperation from authorities in 13 European countries and uncovered more than €8 million in profits from the fixed matches and €2 million in what it described in an official statement as “corrupt payments.”
Many of the matches, the investigation found, were World Cup and European Championship qualifiers, and Europol pinpointed Singapore as a hotbed of the illegal gambling activity.
“Singapore is like 17th century Salem, Massachusetts meets 21st century Las Vegas, Nevada: a veneer of public Puritanism trying to hide a gambling obsession,” wrote investigative journalist Declan Hill in a recent blog post.
Hill is also the author of The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime and has advocated for top-level action against match fixing since the book’s publication in September 2008.
Bleacher Report caught up with Hill following the Europol press conference to get his take on the announcement and maybe learn a thing or two about how to tackle the problem.
B/R: What did the Europol press conference tell us?
DH: We know that there have been at least 360 matches that are considered to have been fixed in the last couple seasons in European football. What we didn’t know going into that press conference was that there were 300 matches in Asia, Latin America and Africa that were also suspicious, and what was truly shocking about that number is that at least 150 of them were national team matches.
For example, Zimbabwe vs. Malaysia, or games at that level. There aren’t that many games at that level, so 150 of them—that’s a pretty high proportion. It’s about one a week. If I were a jam-making factory and between one and five percent of my product was toxic, you’d better hope I was going to be closed down.
B/R: Sepp Blatter said recently that many of the matches in question had already been “dealt with” by both FIFA and the authorities. Is this an accurate claim?
DH: To say that all those cases in Europe have been dealt with is disingenuous at best. For FIFA to pretend this is being dealt with is outrageous, because it speaks to the very governance of football. We’re talking about one to five percent of the games that happen every week under their direct watch being fixed.
B/R: What’s the first thing FIFA should do if they’re serious about tackling this problem?
DH: Somebody at FIFA has to stand up and say, “You know what, Singapore? We don’t like this. Your people are going around the world fixing matches in our countries.”
Just say, “Look, we think you should sit out the next international tournament; we think you should sit out the World Cup and the Olympics.”
It would send a clear message to Singapore: “Hey guys, we’re not having your garbage. You’re dumping a bunch of garbage into our sport, and we’re serious about cleaning it up. And you know what? Banning you doesn’t cost any money; it’s not complicated. What we’ll do is we’ll put this ban into place for the next two years. And if you arrest [the fixers] and put into place the sort of measures that show us you’re serious about cleaning up match fixing in your jurisdiction—fine, come back. But if you’re not, we just don’t want you.”
That’s what has to be done. It’s cheap, it’s easy and it’s very simple to do.
B/R: And the broader authorities?
DH: We’re at a very rare case where we can sum everything up in one sentence. And that sentence is, “Dan Tan must be arrested.”
B/R: Who is Dan Tan?
DH: Dan Tan is an international match-fixer who is alleged to be the No. 1 wanted man in Italy. That’s a huge thing. That’s really, really big.
There’s an arrest warrant out for him by Interpol, but Interpol is clearly not interested in pushing the Singaporean government to serve that international arrest warrant. The Singaporean government has basically given the finger to Interpol and FIFA and the international community and made up a bunch of excuses as to why they’re not serving it.
B/R: Is Dan Tan where the problem begins, or are there others like him, or even more powerful than him?
DH: He’s a broker. There are people much more powerful than he is.
Look, you can’t have that many matches being fixed without international officials being involved.
Let’s be really clear here: I’m not talking about Sepp Blatter and the guys in Zurich. I don’t think they’re fixing matches. I really don’t. They don’t need that. But I do think there are presidents and senior executives of national football associations—i.e. the guys who vote for Blatter—who are fixing.
And I think if we were to put Dan Tan on trial in a neutral location, promise him a protection deal, do the stuff we have to do to get a fair testimony...and if he told everything he knew, it would shake world soccer. It would be a huge scandal, but we would do an immense amount of good toward cleaning up the problem, and then we would move on.
He’s the centre of a network, he knows lots of people. And if you get him you could get lots of other people. You could set fixing back three to five years in which time leagues around the world could put into place all sorts of really good, sensible measures that wouldn’t cost all that much money, and you could make fixing a small side issue.
B/R: What are we risking if match fixing is allowed to continue unchecked?
DH: If we don’t arrest Dan Tan, you can just give up the game within three to five years. Just give up. Because if we don’t arrest him it means the people we have tasked with doing this have failed, that they’re deliberately complicit with failure. If fixing is tolerated, why would you bother? Why would you bother paying attention to this game?
What Interpol and FIFA, and now sadly UEFA, are doing is they’re getting caught up in this battle for credibility instead of rolling up their sleeves and saying, “My goodness, Dan Tan must be arrested. We’re going to put all our efforts into doing that.”
But if they can’t even arrest a man who has hundreds of pages of evidence against him, forget it.
Right now no one’s pressuring the Singaporeans except one guy—a journalist in Canada named Declan Hill.