While much of the footballing world was looking forward to another bout of action in the UEFA Champions League during the week, a far less savoury aspect of the game was coming to light as reports of match fixing surfaced in England.
The Daily Telegraph led an undercover team, as reported by Claire Newell and Holly Watt, to discover an illegal betting syndicate actively working within English football and apparently able to influence the outcome of matches in the lower leagues.
A game which hundreds of thousands flock to watch every weekend is clearly, at least in small part, at the behest of these who seek to corrupt it.
It's a virus which English football fans have watched affect other areas of the global game, other big nations in Europe, without having it so close to home—but these latest revelations will cause a widespread investigation to ensure the damage rises no further up the pyramid than it already has done.
No Premier League Problems
While the appearance of match-fixing in England is bad enough, any ties to the Premier League—arguably the most globalised football brand on the planet—could have been devastating.
The fact that no top-flight games are involved, therefore, will be something of a relief, though a former Premier League player, Delroy Facey, was one of six arrested for alleged match fixing.
Even the betting markets affected are not English, with Asian markets thought to be targeted. Even so, Conference games (one tier below the lowest full-time professional league in England) are no longer available to gamble on with some betting companies in the country.
Serie A and More Recent Scandals
Match-fixing has been rife around the world for decades, but perhaps the most high-profile incident of recent years was the Calciopoli scandal, which shook the Italian game in 2006 and resulted in the relegation of Juventus, who were champions at the time.
Those within Italy perhaps did not learn from that case, however, as further match-fixing claims were brought forward and subsequently charged in 2011, albeit at a lower level than Serie A.
As recently as February, BBC Sport broke news of a massive 680 matches worldwide which were being investigated for potential match-fixing, including a high-profile UEFA Champions League match which took place in England some time between 2009-2013.
More than half of those games took place in Europe, with 300 or so in Africa and Asia.
Tracing Syndicates and Ridding the Game of a Many-Headed Snake
Locating and catching match-fixers is perhaps the greatest challenge facing courts and justice systems within sport in the modern age, with so many transactions able to take place online and over such a variety of in-game matters.
A yellow card obtained within the first five minutes of a game, for example, as was noted in the Telegraph report as being the indicator of a fix attempt being on the cards, could itself go entirely unnoticed in the course of any given match.
The big problem, of course, is that much of the exposure of unscrupulous sorts relies on players and officials stepping forward when approached—and with the scales of money on offer, clearly that is not enough right now.
A sum of £1.73 million is suspected of being paid out to involved parties in Germany alone, with players in the English games targeted this week seeming to require €60,000 to cover their needs; £20,000 buys a referee.
High stakes, indeed, but the potential returns for those making money off the fixed matches are far, far higher.
BBC News have reported that two men, Chann Sankaran and Krishna Sanjey Ganeshan, have now been charged over the alleged match-fixing in England. The earlier Telegraph report alluded to the potential involvement of Wilson Raj Perumal, a known match-fixer with ties in Singapore also.
Asia indeed appears to be something of a hot-bed for these groups to act from, with betting agencies based there more open to accepting bets of the kind which are unavailable in England. Asia-based or not, though, the reach of the actual match-fixing is worldwide.
Stopping it is not as easy as bringing down one man and the rest fall like dominoes, but rather a sustained and vigilant monitoring of betting patterns and match outcomes and, hopefully, firm and justified sentences for those convicted as guilty.
This most recent case will rumble on as more details emerge, but it should serve as a wake-up call for those in England that the game is far from exempt to the cancer which has riddled other parts of the world for far too long.
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