Thursday, July 7, 2011

Falling Like Dominoes: Allegations of Matching Fixing in Football

By Marcel Abboud

Betting is (for some) an added item of luxury and excitement that's brought to the game of football. Many fans will bet on their favourite teams to win games and/or leagues, or perhaps who's going to score the first goal. There's literally thousands of options that a fan can bet on. Who knows, a five dollar multi-bet could reap dividends and make one lucky fan a quick buck in a very short return. With advancement in technologies and greater access to live scores from all over the world, it would be hard to disagree that betting is something that can't be avoided in the game of football.

But with every positive aspect that's in making money (especially when it's a quick dollar for little or no effort) there's always bound to be a negative, ugly connotation that's attached to it. In sport, there is always the sneaky suspicion (whether fabricated or not) that who knows, perhaps that a game/s can be fixed and the results already pre-determined (known as match fixing). It's as of late (the past few years or so) that match fixing has reared it's ugly head in the game of football (but this isn't to say that it hasn't always been around).

Recently, the Italian footballing world has been rocked (once again) by allegations of match fixing after calls for Inter Milan to be stripped of the 2006 Scudetto (title) due to evidence not originally included in the 2006 Italian football scandal (known as Calciopoli in Italian). These allegations are based on wiretapped phone calls by late Inter Milan president Giacinto Facchetti who FIGC chief investigator Stefano Palazzi claims tried to influence the referring sector. For those who don't recall, Italian football was rocked with a massive betting scandal in May 2006 (Calciopoli) involving its top leagues, Serie A and Serie B. The Italian police current league champions at the time Juventus as well as other teams including AC Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina and Reggina were accused of rigging games by selecting favorable referees to determine favourable outcomes for games. After all was said and done, Juventus were stripped of the 2006 and 2006 titles, relegated to Serie B , withdrawn from the 2006/07 UEFA Champions League and forced to play three home games behind closed doors. The other teams who were found guilty received various punishments ranging from point deductions to massive fines and withdrawal from continental competitions.

Turkey is the latest country to be rocked by betting scandals. Reports suggest that
various league matches have been staged and fixed in the last Turkish football season, with a number of high profile clubs such as Fenerbache and Eskisehirspor being implicated, with around 30 people being held in this match fixing probe. Whether they are found guilty of match fixing is yet to be seen, but the investigation is still on going.

Even in the European lower leagues, suspicious activity involving clubs is active. In 2009, UEFA investigated three Macedonian clubs (FK Pobeda, FK Milano and Rabotnicki) in their losses in their Europea League ties against various opposition. FK Pobeda were banned by UEFA from continental competitions for eight years after being convicted of match fixing. In June 2011, the Finish top flight had its own match fixing scandals when Finnish officials opened up a criminal investigation against clubs suspected of money laundering.

This kind of scandals aren't limited to European leagues, in fact it can happen anywhere and in any country.
In September 2010, the national team of Bahrain took on a supposed Togo national team and won 3 - 0. After total domination of the African side and having numerous goals ruled out, this supposed Togo team was found to be entirely "fake" and not even the Togo Football Federation knowing of this match that took place in Bahrian. This Togo team was linked to a match fixing allegation, who placed a lot of money on the result of the game.

This type of activity is deplorable and is a detriment to the beautiful game of football. It takes out the passion, excitement and anticipation that fans crave when they go watch a game.
What is the motivation for these activities? Above all, it always comes down to money because in plain and simple terms, money makes the world go around (especially in the footballing world).

Betting is a quick and easy way to make money (and if you're good at it lots of of) and if you can fix the results to make lots of money and you can pull it off, then you're going to be rich and then-some. But when you know that your team has won a game/league/championship because results "fell" your way, it makes many fans sick and ashamed to be following that club.

Match fixing is a scar of the game of football and more must be done (both by local federations in conjunction with their governments and along with FIFA) to help stamp out such disgraceful activities.

What needs to be done in such circumstances, as always, remains to be seen.