World Cup not immune to match-fixing

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Reuters

The World Cup finals are not exempt from attempts to rig games and FIFA is leaving nothing to chance, the head of security at soccer's governing body says. Photo by: Michael Buholzer

ZURICH - The World Cup finals are not exempt from attempts to rig games and FIFA is leaving nothing to chance, the head of security at soccer's governing body told Reuters in an interview.

Ralf Mutschke said FIFA could even postpone a match if there were indications it had been targeted for manipulation by criminal gangs, although he stressed such a measure would be a last resort.

He added that there was a thin line between gambling-induced match-fixing and the scenario of teams playing to a cosy draw at the end of the group stage so that both qualified for the next round, something which he generally considered to be tactical and outside his main area of responsibility.

Match-fixing has become a huge concern for soccer's authorities in the last few years as illegal gambling rings pay players, referees or officials to manipulate games and make enormous amounts of money by betting on the outcome.

Often, manipulators prefer to act away from the limelight, concentrating on low-profile international friendlies and national leagues in smaller countries.

However, Mutschke, a former high-ranking officer in the German federal police with more than 30 years' experience of crime-fighting, said that so much money was gambled on World Cup matches that criminals were bound to be tempted.

“You have big betting on the World Cup matches, you have a lot of money involved in that betting, therefore we have to consider that fixers would like to manipulate World Cup matches, therefore we have to counter that,” Mutschke told Reuters.

“It would be stupid not to take into consideration that World Cup matches could be targets of fixers. We have to prepare ourselves and of course not believe that the World Cup is exempt,” he added.

Mutschke said FIFA security officers would be at each of the 64 matches during the June 12/July 13 tournament in Brazil, armed with a detailed dossier on which games carried the highest risk.

“We have a coherent strategy to counter match manipulation starting with risk assessment and focusing on teams playing, whether in the past there have been allegations of fixing or not, also at which stage the game is being played, is it a group match, at the beginning or the end,” he said.

“All of our matches are monitored on the betting market through the Early Warning System and the entire FIFA security team will be in Brazil.”

“If unusual betting patterns were detected before a game, we would need even more than a strong indication that a fix is being set up before calling a match off. But if we had clear evidence of a fixed match why should we let such a match go? We have to protect the integrity of our competition,” Mutschke added.

“Cancel, postpone, stop. Theoretically possible...but this is the last resort, it's really the last step you can take.

“If we had real information, immediately before a game, if we knew that fixers had infiltrated the match through players, or referees, this would be an option.

“But, obviously, we have other measures we could implement before that.”

He said that teams would be more vulnerable to attempted manipulation if the players had not been paid or been bickering over bonuses.

“Generally, and not only for the World Cup, if players are not paid accordingly, it raises the risk of them being approached, and of accepting a bribe, this is normal,” he said. “But, it's only part of the whole picture.”

Mutschke said that cases of teams playing out a tame match in a group match to produce a result that suited both of them would not normally be considered match-fixing.

There have been several incidents at the World Cup in the past, the most notorious being West Germany's 1-0 win over Austria at the 1982 World Cup which sent both sides into the knockout stages at the expense of Algeria.

“It's not linked to my core business, it's something I would qualify as tactics,” said Mutschke.

“It's like where you have one team already qualified in a Champions League or World Cup game and they don't put out their first team because they don't want to risk injury, or they want to get some rest.

“It is a thin line, somehow....it's very difficult. What do you consider to be the tactical movement of a coach and what is the manipulation of matches?

“This is not reflected on the betting market, it might be reflected because they might lower the rates for a draw, but it is not typically what we are aiming at.

“It's a really tough question: we had a strong discussion in our areas as well, but this is still to be considered as tactical freedom of the coach or the teams.”

Mutschke said the key was whether coaches had negotiated with each other.

“It's a wide-ranging discussion and something which has probably to be assessed on the particular match,” he added.

“At the end, the competent judicial body will have to consider and decide on the case.”

 

Here are some of the most recent football match-fixing cases. Match-fixing is usually instigated by criminal gangs who bribe players or referees to manipulate a game and make huge profits by betting on the outcome:

AUSTRIA

Criminal investigators said in November that 20 current and former footballers in the Austrian league are being treated as suspects over match-fixing.

They said up to 17 matches could have been manipulated in the last seven years, including nine in the Bundesliga, the top flight of Austrian football. Three of those were played this season involving Groedig.

The revelations came after the arrest of former Groedig defender Dominique Taboga who had already been released by his club over match-fixing allegations.

EL SALVADOR

Fourteen internationals, including some of the country's best known and most experienced players with several World Cup qualifying campaigns behind them, were given life bans in September for manipulating international games. The Salvadorean federation said the matches included a 5-0 Gold Cup defeat against Mexico in 2011.

ESTONIA

The Public Prosecutor's office said in December that it had charged 11 men for match-fixing in 2011 and 2012. The charges related to 12 domestic league games, three Europa League matches and a fixture each in Lithuania and Ireland.

LEBANON

The Lebanese Football Federation sanctioned 24 players, including lifetime bans for Malaysian-based defender Ramez Dayoub and Indonesian-based forward Mahmoud El-Ali, for manipulation which centred on international fixtures and matches in the AFC Cup, the second tier regional club tournament.

SOUTH KOREA

Forty-one players from South Korea's K-League were banned for life following a scandal which erupted in 2011 and involved matches played the previous year. The scandal led the South Korean government to threaten to wind up the K-League if action was not taken.

A reprieve was later offered to 21 of the players who turned themselves in during the voluntary reporting period and expressed “grave regret” about their involvement in match-fixing.

ITALY

Italy's most-recent scandal, Calcioscommesse, centred on attempts to manipulate matches in Serie B, the Italian second division, and the third tier Lega Pro during the 2010/11 season, with some Coppa Italia matches also involved.

Dozens of players have been suspended and a number of clubs, mostly from the lower tiers of the Italian league system, have had points deducted.

The highest profile suspensions have been for former Italy internationals Cristiano Doni and Giuseppe Signori, Torino goalkeeper Jean Francois Gillet, Juventus coach Antonio Conte and former Lazio captain Stefano Mauri.

Doni was suspended for three-and-a-half years while former Lazio and Italy striker Signori was banned for five years from any football-related activity in the first batch of sanctions handed out in August 2011.

Juventus coach Conte was given a 10-month ban last season, later reduced to four months on appeal, for failing to report match-fixing in games against Novara and Albinoleffe in the 2010/11 season when he was coach of Siena. He denied wrongdoing.

 

Mauri was banned for nine months this season, later to reduced to six, and Belgian international Gillet for three years and seven months

ENGLAND

Four people were charged in December, including two players from sixth tier semi-professional team Whitehawk FC, in connection with an alleged international illegal betting syndicate.

AUSTRALIA

Australian police arrested 10 people, many of them British, across Melbourne early on a Sunday morning in September as part of an operation to smash a “multi-million dollar” match fixing ring centred on the second tier Victorian Premier League.

The Football Federation of Australia (FFA) said they were nine players and a coach from the Southern Stars club and commended the action of the police in making the arrests.

TURKEY

Fenerbahce were been banned from European soccer for two seasons last June for their involvement in a domestic match-fixing scandal. Compatriots Besiktas were given a one-season ban.

Both bans were linked to a scandal which rocked Turkish football in 2011.

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) imposed bans of between one and three years on 10 players, but did not punish any clubs.

The TFF said the scandal referred to around a dozen matches, including Fenerbahce's 4-3 win over Sivasspor on the final day of the 2010/11 season which allowed them to clinch the league championship.

ZIMBABWE

Zimbabwe's former coach and captain were among 15 players and officials banned for life in October 2012 for their part in a long-running match-fixing scandal, the national football association (ZIFA) said.

Ex-coach Sunday Chidzambwa and ex-skipper Method Mwanjali were found by a year-long independent investigation to have conspired with an Asian betting syndicate when Zimbabwe played friendlies in Asia between 2007 and 2009.

An official report said games were fixed by ZIFA officials along with convicted match-fixer Wilson Perumal.

Former ZIFA general secretary Henrietta Rushwaya and Zimbabwe goalkeeper Edmore Siyanda were also among the 15.

NICARAGUA

National team defender Armando Collado was banned for life in 2011 over a friendly against Guatemala the previous year.

GUATEMALA

Three Guatemalan internationals were banned for life in September 2012 after being found guilty of manipulating two international friendlies, against Costa Rica and Venezuela.

The trio were also found to have manipulated a CONCACAF Champions League game between their club CSD Municipal and Mexico's Santos Laguna, who won the match 6-1.

The case was denounced by other players to Ever Almeida, then coach of the national side, who took it to the Guatemalan federation.

FINLAND

Singaporean national Wilson Perumal was sentenced to two years in prison in 2011 and nine soccer players, seven Zambians and two Georgians, were given suspended sentences.

The court said Perumal was part of a group that tried to fix matches played by the Rovaniemi club between June 2008 and February 2011.

Perumal paid players up to 20,000 euros ($28,290) per match and received up to 50,000 euros, in addition to some of the betting profits, each time the results were fixed.

FRIENDLIES

Six match officials were banned for life over match-fixing in two friendly internationals that produced a total of seven penalties in 2011.

The officials, three from Bosnia and three from Hungary, were involved in the Latvia-Bolivia and Estonia-Bulgaria matches played in the resort of Antalya in February that year. Latvia won 2-1 and the other game ended 2-2, all the goals coming from penalties.

FIFA also started an investigation into Nigeria's 4-1 friendly win over Argentina the same year after referee Ibrahim Chaibou of Niger awarded two controversial penalties, including one to Argentina in the eighth minute of stoppage time.

FIFA later said they had been trying to speak to Chaibou but were unable to track him down.

Reuters


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