"Match-fixers will be at the World Cup in South Africa. They will be there approaching players, referees, and team officials and trying to bribe them to fix matches. They will be there because they have been at almost every international football tournament —the Under-17 World Cup, the Under-20 World Cup, the Olympic Football tournament and the Women’s and Men’s World Cups —for the last 20 years. They will be there because there has been no effective action on the part of FIFA to clean up this problem."
So began a letter I received from my colleague Declan Hill , author of the book The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime . Hill is no conspiracy theorist. His book reveals not just which soccer matches have been fixed, but how it is done and who is involved. He even witnessed matches being fixed first-hand.
Soccer fans everywhere should heed his warning.
Americans may not realize just how big of an event the World Cup is due to soccer's lack of popularity in the U.S. While the Super Bowl holds all 10 places in the top 10 most watched television events in U.S. history, the 2006 World Cup was watched by 5 percent of all humanity who ever existed .
It is also the most wagered upon sporting event in the world. Betting on the World Cup —both legal and illegal —will generate likely over $40 billion in wagers. Due to the vast amount of money exchanging hands, the possibility of a fixed match is highly probable.
How is that possible?
For one, most people believe players should take the pitch with a pure heart and play for their homeland. Yet seeing how much money surrounds them —from sponsorships, in the stands, at the concession stands, on television —the players rightfully want a taste.
The problem is that players are not paid directly for their participation in the World Cup. Each nation's soccer association receives money from FIFA, yet the players do not know how much or even if they will be paid for their efforts. This sets the stage, especially with the poorer nations that participate in the event, for players to accept bribes from gamblers (Hill details in his book how gamblers often bribe bad teams to ensure they lose by a particular score).
FIFA's counterargument to the idea of match-fixing resides in its "Early Warning System." This is a system set up to detect "unnatural" money on games, hinting at a potential fix. There are two huge holes in this program: one, the system is maintained by legal sports books while a majority of the money wagered is done illegally; and two, with over $40 billion being wagered worldwide, no one —even the legal sports books —would likely notice an extra $1 million being bet on a fixed match.
Foolishly, Graham Sharpe, a spokesman for the legal British bookmaker William Hill, was quoted in a marketwatch.com article saying, "There have been proportionately fewer 'rigging scandals' in football, I would suggest, than in some U.S. sports in recent years. Bookmakers are the potential targets of any attempted match fixing, [but] we have no concerns whatsoever about the integrity of the World Cup."
Of course Sharpe, like all bookmakers (and sporting leagues), doesn't want people to consider that games may be fixed —it negatively affects their business. But the truth is, soccer games —and World Cup games —have been fixed in the past and will likely be fixed in 2010. Sharpe can do nothing to stop it from happening, nor can he and his fellow bookmakers detect it.
Unfortunately, the situation is the same for FIFA. While the organization could do more —much more —to combat the problem, they perfer to stick their collective heads in the sand. FIFA has even gone so far as to allow bookmakers to set up shop directly outside the stadiums in South Africa where the World Cup matches will be played. Match fixing? What match fixing?
FIFA seems to have a very short memory. For literally hundreds of players, coaches, and referees have been arrested, charged, and convicted for fixing soccer matches across the globe.
To think that the gamblers and criminal organizations that fixed those games won't attempt to do so in the 2010 World Cup is ludicrous.
You have been warned.
For more, visit: www.thefixisin.net