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Soccer match-fixing probe: 680 suspicious games worldwide ...
February 4, 2013 3:21 PM   Subscribe

"Organized crime gangs have fixed or tried to fix hundreds of soccer matches around the world in recent years, including World Cup and European Championship qualifiers and two Champions League games, Europol announced Monday. The European Union's police agency said an 18-month review found 380 suspicious matches in Europe and another 300 questionable games outside the continent, mainly in Africa, Asia and South and Central America. It also found evidence that a Singapore-based crime syndicate was involved in some of the match-fixing."*
"This is a sad day for European football (soccer)," Europol Director Rob Wainwright told reporters. He said criminals were cashing in on soccer corruption "on a scale and in a way that threatens the very fabric of the game."

Europol said 425 match officials, club officials, players and criminals from at least 15 countries were involved in fixing European soccer games dating back to 2008.*
posted by ericb (48 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ralf Mutschke, FIFA Director of Security:
"The news today from Europol follows a long investigation. I have been very clear in saying that match-fixing and match manipulation is a global problem, and one that is not going to go away tomorrow. FIFA and the football community are committed to tackling this problem, but we will not succeed alone.

“The cooperation between law enforcement and sporting organizations needs to be strengthened. The support of law enforcement bodies, legal investigations, and ultimately tougher sanctions are required, as currently there is low risk and high gain potential for the fixers.”
posted by ericb at 3:22 PM on February 4, 2013


When the world comes to the conclusion that pretty much every sport above the level of 5 year olds playing T-Ball is governed by money, we will stop being surprised by fixed games, doping, cheating, and the rest of the evil that oozes out of the pores of sports entertainment industry.

Take it for what it is, a choreographed spectacle for your enjoyment.
posted by HuronBob at 3:31 PM on February 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


There's an Arsenal-Barcelona match that I'm pretty sure about...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:34 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


So all sports are essentially turning into pro wrestling? Why do people bother to watch it?
posted by Triplanetary at 3:41 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm having trouble understanding how some of the rich players on rich clubs could do this - take what sounds like about a week's wages to potentially ruin their careers, and to damage the thing that gains them a higher profile, success in the Champions League or World Cup. I can see why someone in a poorer league might take the money, but Arsenal? Man Utd? Chelsea? Barca? Even if you have no qualms about cheating per se, why would you do that?
posted by Fnarf at 3:41 PM on February 4, 2013


So all sports are essentially turning into pro wrestling? Why do people bother to watch it?

But that's the rub; us commoners have no idea which way the matches are fixed so it's still exciting.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:43 PM on February 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


The book I read about Italian soccer quoted various Italians as saying that match-fixing made the games MORE exciting, since if you were able to beat the opposition AND the crooked ref, you were really achieving something special; and if you couldn't, well, you had a perfect excuse.
posted by Fnarf at 3:49 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


All it takes is one or two rogue ballboys.
posted by Flashman at 3:49 PM on February 4, 2013


What does it look like when someone has their wires crossed and both try to lose?
posted by Burhanistan at 3:50 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


this will be interesting
posted by philip-random at 3:51 PM on February 4, 2013


It's gettin' so a businessman can't expect no return from a fixed fight.
posted by bukvich at 3:54 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's an Arsenal-Barcelona match that I'm pretty sure about...

Or Chelsea-Barca in 2009, which as we were all told, was a "Fucking disgrace!"
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:59 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm having trouble understanding how some of the rich players on rich clubs could do this - take what sounds like about a week's wages to potentially ruin their careers, and to damage the thing that gains them a higher profile, success in the Champions League or World Cup. I can see why someone in a poorer league might take the money, but Arsenal? Man Utd? Chelsea? Barca? Even if you have no qualms about cheating per se, why would you do that?

Greed and a low risk of being caught. You also don't need to pay off Messi, you pay off the guys who aren't superstars. Most Champions League teams are not Barcelona and there are plenty of non-superstars to bribe, but even Barcelona has possibilities.

This investigation seems to be focused on suspicious betting patterns originating in Asia (which is woefully unspecific--it's always "Asian organised crime" as if Asia's the size of France or something), but it's fairly well known money can change hands in Spain and Italy before matches that are meaningful to one team and not the other. Betting sometimes gets suspended in Italy when it's obvious a draw will benefit both teams because there's such a good chance there'll be a draw.
posted by hoyland at 3:59 PM on February 4, 2013


You also don't need to pay off Messi, you pay off the guys who aren't superstars.

Barcelona averages almost $9 million per player ($167k per week); it's not just Messi. There are no poorly-paid Barca players. Ditto Chelsea and Man City. The guys who earn little enough to be susceptible don't get the playing time.

It's almost as if footballers were, I dunno...stupid or something.
posted by Fnarf at 4:05 PM on February 4, 2013


What does it look like when someone has their wires crossed and both try to lose?

South Park Studios - The Losing Edge
posted by Drinky Die at 4:11 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just watched a summary of the events of that Chelsea-Barca match. Pretty damning.

I am not surprised at all though by players selling their credibility - I used to get amazed by how little people who had been bribed sold their reputation off for, but now I don't. No matter how rich you are you always want more, and hey some ostensibly "free" cash is simply enough to push people over the edge.
posted by awfurby at 4:14 PM on February 4, 2013


Needs moar Declan Hill, who appears to be one of the top world experts in, among other things, 'blogging about and publicly naming names of top match fixers who are not after all being arrested'.

In his spare time, Hill is a keen amateur boxer.

I bet he is.
posted by motty at 4:15 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


380 suspicious matches in Europe and another 300 questionable games outside the continent, mainly in Africa, Asia and South and Central America.

So basically the only leagues one can trust are the Australia A League, MLS, and the Antarctica Premier League?
posted by Tsuga at 4:24 PM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I may, I'm going to refer to the following, that was written in reference to Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals:
"As usual, Nader's argument is only half right. Were the Kings jammed by the referees? Yes. Was Game Six an egregious example of state-sponsored cheating? Probably. But this is what sets the NBA apart from every other team sport in North America: Everyone who loves pro basketball assumes it's a little fixed. We all think the annual draft lottery is probably rigged, we all accept that the league aggressively wants big market teams to advance deep into the playoffs, and we all concede that certain marquee players are going to get preferential treatment for no valid reason. The outcomes of games aren't predetermined or scripted, but there are definitely dark forces who play with our reality. There are faceless puppet masters who pull strings and manipulate the purity of justice. It's not necessarily a full-on conspiracy, but it's certainly not fair. And that's why the NBA remains the only game that matters: Pro basketball is exactly like life."

Chuck Klosterman - from the "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs" collection
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 4:29 PM on February 4, 2013


So all sports are essentially turning into pro wrestling? Why do people bother to watch it?

From the WWE corporate FAQ: "WWE is watched by 14 million fans each week in the United State alone. Our diverse audience spans generations of fans. Approximately 35% of WWE's audience is female and 24% are under the age of 18."

That's a lot larger audience than "the Australia A League, MLS, and the Antarctica Premier League" combined.

And the Super Bowl blackout lasted just long enough for the officials to remind everyone on the field that the game was not supposed to be a blowout.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:46 PM on February 4, 2013


So basically the only leagues one can trust are the Australia A League, MLS, and the Antarctica Premier League?

I'm sure that North America soccer is crooked as well, but both fans pled the 5th...
posted by madajb at 5:33 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


So basically the only leagues one can trust are the Australia A League, MLS, and the Antarctica Premier League?

The APL? Are you kidding me? What about the 2009 Amundsen-Scott FC / Mirny Dynamo cup final? That was never a penalty, let alone a sending-off for Gunderson!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:45 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


> And the Super Bowl blackout lasted just long enough for the officials to remind everyone on the field that the game was not supposed to be a blowout.

dude your tinfoil hat needs some patchwork.
posted by bukvich at 6:03 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Please, please, please let this take down Sepp Blatter.
posted by arcticseal at 6:36 PM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Relevant.
posted by Red Loop at 6:51 PM on February 4, 2013


Remember this article the next times someone makes a smart-ass remark about professional wrestling. At least those guys are honest about their subterfuge.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:01 PM on February 4, 2013


Wasn't there an article last year how fixing was uncovered with the minor leagues of soccer too? I remember accusations against the lower rungs of Canadian/North American soccer matches that were also linked with organized crime.
posted by reiichiroh at 8:20 PM on February 4, 2013


There are multiple doping scandals in Paralympic curling. I'm ready to believe people at any event are willing to cheat or fix. Not ready to cite two South Park episodes in one thread though, as appropriate as it might seem.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:59 PM on February 4, 2013


This is different from doping though. With the various doping scandals you have the people within a sport cheating to have a better chance of winning, while here you have outside forces perverting a sport for their own monetary game. The footballers or match officials involved so far only seem to be pawns and patsies.

As to why well paid footballers would do it, well, allegedly these fixes are not so much about changing the outcome of a match, but about which player or which team will get a first yellow card or whatever, things that are fairly random and difficult to detect. Therefore the chance of being caught at it is reasonably small, while for non-superstar players the reward might be high, not to mention that quite likely some or many players or officials have been blackmailed.

The problem is also that football associations have been reluctant to investigate while it has been a low priority for the police as well. rumours about match fixing and organised crime have been getting stronger for at least a decade and of course the increased commercialisation of the game since the eighties have made it more lucrative for criminals too to exploit.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:10 PM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm having trouble understanding how some of the rich players on rich clubs could do this

Apparently, while there's talk of match-fixing even at Champions' League level, most of the match-fixing in this investigation didn't happen in the big leagues, but in minor leagues: third-division Belgian matches, fourth-division matches in Germany, stuff like that. Apparently, these obscure matches still somehow move an astounding amount of Chinese betting money.
posted by Skeptic at 2:50 AM on February 5, 2013


Also, an important factor helping the rot is that there's an awful lot of money-laundering going on in European pro soccer. Even in the normal course of affairs, there are plenty of under-the-table envelopes and kickbacks between clubs and agents.
Just a particularly egregious example: the late and infamous Jesus Gil, then-owner of Atlético Madrid, had his club (sponsored by the town of Marbella, of which he just happened to be mayor) pay 2.7 billion pesetas (some 10 million euros) to himself for the contracts to three African and one Brazilian player...at least two of whom apparently weren't players at all. Amongst all these opaque transactions, it isn't surprising that match-fixing fees can be easily disguised.
posted by Skeptic at 3:08 AM on February 5, 2013


I'm having trouble understanding how some of the rich players on rich clubs could do this - take what sounds like about a week's wages to potentially ruin their careers, and to damage the thing that gains them a higher profile, success in the Champions League or World Cup.

It's more probable the threat of violence if organized crime is involved. A rich player is more likely to respond to avoiding an "accident" off the field than taking a bribe. Any money handed over to a player would just be insurance to implicate the player should he be tempted to talk.
posted by 3.2.3 at 3:47 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Implicate but also placate -- threats might work, but combine it with a bribe and the victim can at least feel like they're getting something out of the effort besides the lack of physical harm.
posted by ardgedee at 4:48 AM on February 5, 2013


I'm having trouble understanding how some of the rich players on rich clubs could do this - take what sounds like about a week's wages to potentially ruin their careers, and to damage the thing that gains them a higher profile, success in the Champions League or World Cup.

It doesn't sound like many (or any) big teams were involved. For example the fixed Champions League match in England was reportedly Liverpool v Debrecen, with the likely fix involving the Hungarian team's goalkeeper (who was subsequently banned for not reporting another match-fixing approach). And other than Germany, the reports of fixing come from quite small leagues, where the players wouldn't be earning much.
posted by Infinite Jest at 4:52 AM on February 5, 2013


I think the bigger story is the World Cup qualification fixing - that might be the sword for Sepp to finally fall on.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:05 AM on February 5, 2013


So all sports are essentially turning into pro wrestling? Why do people bother to watch it?

I'd like to see the document(s) that prove this. There are many sports played in the world today professionally so if they're all essentially WWF I'd like to see proof.
posted by juiceCake at 7:47 AM on February 5, 2013


Okay I was about to say football is nothing like WWE, even if a lot of lower league matches (and the occasional higher one) are fixed, but then I remembered this clip.

Marcelo puts Fabregas in some sort of capoeira leg thing. Followed by a whole team pile up involving apparently everyone except Kaka. Finally at around 2:45 in the clip, Mourinho (aka THE SPECIAL ONE), attempts The Special Ear Grab on Barcelona's Crown Prince Manager, Tito Vilanova.

Then he gives his best duck face.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:12 AM on February 5, 2013


Fnarf: "It's almost as if footballers were, I dunno...stupid or something."

"I hit the ball first time and there it was in the back of the net."
posted by Chrysostom at 8:30 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The USA- Canada women's qualifier at the London Olympics was definitely a "questionable" game.

I assumed that the referee's family was being held in a warehouse someplace.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:07 AM on February 5, 2013


The thing is, Soccer's rules are inherently drama prone:

1) There aren't any play-offs. The European Championship (Champions League) and World Cup finals are decided in a single game.
2) There aren't many points scored in a game. A final can be won by scoring a single goal. Therefore a referee's decision can bear an awful lot of weight (sending a player off, calling for a penalty)
3) This gives an incentive for players to fake fouls or overreact when they're fouled, which they do also because the game is now so fast compared to 30 years ago and since there's still only one referee on the field, players need to make sure the referee spots it. (video/replay isn't allowed)
4) Faking a foul has become so common that referees might give a yellow card to a player for diving (two yellow cards and you're sent off) which means a referee has about one second to decide whether a player is faking or was deliberately fouled, while half a stadium is screaming at him.
5) Time keeping is very flexible. The clock is never stopped. The referee decides how much stoppage time is added before half time and at the end of the game. This makes time wasting a popular tactic for teams leading on the scoreboard.
6) As a result, referees are under extreme pressure. It's not uncommon for an international referee to receive death threats.

Most Soccer commentators [citation needed] agree that the rules haven't evolved as quickly as the pace of the game and the amount of money involved. There are talks about introducing goal-line technology (similar to Hawkeye for tennis) and adding a referee on each end of the pitch but it never seems to be enough.

Let's hope that this match fixing scandal will give a kick in the backside of the governing bodies (FIFA, UEFA) and spurs them to modernise the rules of the most popular sport in the world.
posted by surrendering monkey at 1:51 PM on February 5, 2013


What does it look like when someone has their wires crossed and both try to lose?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbados_4–2_Grenada_(1994_Caribbean_Cup_qualification)#Match
posted by palbo at 4:30 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


So my favorite German phrase is "public viewing" because it means something rather different in English.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:21 PM on February 8, 2013


Oh, hey, I got steered here from the deleted thread. Here's a thought:

One of the things I find fascinating about this story is how multinational in scope it really is, and all the more difficult to address because of it.

I was talking with some friends offline about this story, and one suggested that, given the structure of baseball, it's surprising that this doesn't happen more there. Others jumped to the defense of America's Pasttime, suggesting that it's early public scandal, and it's severe response to it, has protected the sport. But if you read this article, and the related coverage, you may conclude, as I did, baseball is more likely to be protected by how parochial it is.
posted by .kobayashi. at 3:32 PM on February 8, 2013


Baseball is actually kind of hard to fix. You need to bribe a lot of people to make it happen because the most important player, the pitcher, only starts a game every few days and is quickly pulled if things start going bad. You would have to target an umpire or an entire team and that can get more difficult. The game is just less drama prone, as surrendering monkey would put it.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:22 PM on February 8, 2013


Baseball is actually kind of hard to fix.

Kansas City Royals fans nod silently. Oh, you mean the gambling kind of fix? That too.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:48 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I kind of suspect that no one tries to fix baseball because there's no money in it. You can bet on baseball, at least in Vegas and I'm sure online, but do people actually do it? Even the NFL lines get printed in the paper and I've never met anyone who's bet on the NFL. In contrast the football/soccer betting market, at least in Europe, is enormous. You'd never hear odds discussed on a baseball podcast, but they are on Football Weekly. But if you were picking a sport fix, I think you'd aim for something with more money in it than baseball--your bets have to be small enough relative to the whole market to not fuck up the odds before you get your betting done. Even then, the way you spot these things is not by watching people hand over wads of cash (except when you do, of course), it's by seeing weird odds and weird bets.

Buying an umpire crew (you'd have to buy off the whole crew, I think) is probably doable. Someone bought an NBA referee a few years back, didn't they? The last German betting scandal was about buying referees, as well, as I recall.

I saw a Mexico v Costa Rica Gold Cup match a few years back where the refereeing was so atrocious and so biased that we started to suspect it was fixed. By the organizers, that is--there's huge financial incentive for a Mexico v USA final in a Gold Cup with the final in Chicago.
posted by hoyland at 7:53 PM on February 8, 2013


Right, hoyland. That's entirely in line with the "parochial" .argument. I think that's the biggest part of the answer: globally soaking, nobody cares. At least not by comparison.
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:15 AM on February 9, 2013


hoyland: "Even the NFL lines get printed in the paper and I've never met anyone who's bet on the NFL. "

That sort of seems like confirmation bias, though. We read here, "It’s estimated that Americans bet some $380 billion on sports each year—99 percent of it illegally. Two-fifths of all legal sports bets are placed on pro and college football, so we can safely assume that roughly $70 billion is bet on the NFL annually."

That seems like a reasonably sized target for influencing outcomes.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:59 PM on February 9, 2013


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