So it’s football’s turn now.
After Lance Armstrong’s disgrace shamed cycling, and spot fixing embarrassed cricket, the pendulum has swung back to football as the current sport to be associated with cheating.
Europol – that’s the European Union’s law enforcement agency, for those unaware – have revealed that investigations have uncovered a mass of potential betting fraud and match fixing on a worldwide scale in professional football in seemingly all levels. To give some loose background to this investigation, it was started around 18 months ago following evidence that the practice was prevalent in areas of Germany, Finland and Hungary. The investigation was later extended to Slovenia and Austria, before now looking at around 680 separate matches in 30 different countries. The activities are suspected to be part of a sophisticated crime syndicate which has generated nearly £7m in gambling winnings. The investigation gained substantial interest in the British press in recent weeks due to the unconfirmed reports that Liverpool’s 1-0 victory over Debrecen in the 2009-10 Champions League group stage is suspected to have been involved. This was exacerbated by the claims of Serbian gangster ‘Karesz’ that Manchester United’s 5-0 victory over Hungarian side Zalaegerszeg TE was also the subject of match fixing. Although there have been no suggestions levelled that either of the British sides knew of the plans, the mere involvement of them has opened the debate on how a scandal of this scale would affect football’s reputation.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, football has survived match fixing controversies before. Nicknamed Calciopoli, the Italian for “Footballville”, the 2006 Italian football scandal saw many of the nations top clubs including AC Milan, Lazio, and Serie A champions Juventus caught fixing matches by influencing referee selection. This resulted in relegations, point deductions and title stripping. This is not simply tinkering with referees in a domestic league however. The scale of these investigations are reportedly due to the involvement of matches from the World Cup, European Championship, Champions League, and European domestic leagues, as well as a huge number from outside of Europe. The international nature of match-fixing, exposed in this case, presents a major challenge to investigators and prosecutors. One fixed match can involve up to 50 suspects in 10 countries, spanning different legal frameworks and definitions of match-fixing and betting fraud. The nature of this is indeed worrying for modern football, with Fifa President Sepp Blatter himself admitting that cheating in football will never be eradicated. The knock on effect this could have in football could potentially destroy the gambling industry, the sponsorship that funds the cash-driven modern game, and ultimately change football forever. Alternatively, it could have absolutely no real effect on the modern game. Who knows?
Unfortunately, due to the confidential nature of illegal stuff, we are still in the dark with regards to who is being investigated, who is potentially involved, and which matches are suspected of being fixed. With the investigation continuing, this reporter understands that his loyal following has but one question; If Port Vale’s shock 0-0 draw on Saturday was a result of match-fixing, will the bookies refund my coupon?