Soccer faces epic fight against match-fixing
These live bets can ‘‘be particularly advantageous for criminals,’’ according to Forrest’s report, because they increase the number of wagers placed on the same fixed game.
As former Balkan warlords and Chinese businessmen have discovered, owning a club means players don’t need to be paid extra to fix matches; they can just be ordered to lose. Corrupt team officials have also dangled career advancement instead of money before vulnerable young players.
‘‘There is an increasing worry about gangs taking over football clubs as a way to further match-fixing ... and then they could also use the club to launder money,’’ Forrest said. ‘‘It’s quite cheap to buy a football club because so many of them are failing.’’
An American diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks quoted the U.S. Embassy in Sofia as reporting that ‘‘Bulgarian soccer clubs are widely believed to be directly or indirectly controlled by organized crime figures who use their teams as a way to legitimize themselves, launder money and make a fast buck.’’
In 2011, Turkey’s venerable Fenerbahce soccer club won 16 of its last 17 national league games to stay in the coveted Champions League — a benefit it estimated as worth $58.5 million a year. In July 2012, Fenerbahce President Aziz Yildirim was convicted of fixing four of those games and bribing to influence the outcome of three others. He did it by promising rival players a roster spot or arranging for referees who would favor his team.
Yildirim was one of 93 people who went on trial in Turkey last year for match-fixing — and only 14 of them were players.
Serbian player Boban Dmitrovic says he saw many instances in his home country where two clubs simply agreed on the outcome in advance.
‘‘Right before the match, a note was handed to the players. They had to cooperate because their careers would be jeopardized,’’ Dmitrovic told FIFPro, the soccer players’ union.
This ‘‘chairman-to-chairman method’’ of match-fixing is still common in Russia, Albania and the Balkan nations, according to Forrest’s sports corruption report.
The vast majority of the world’s wagering originates in Asia, according to Forrest, but its own bettors shun that continent’s games for those in Europe because Asian soccer has been so corrupt for years.
In 2011, China’s main TV network refused to broadcast the country’s soccer games because match-fixing was so widespread. Last year, two former heads of China’s soccer federation were sentenced to 10½ years in prison.
In Finland, eight African players with ties to a Singapore crime gang were banned in 2012 for match-fixing. Their handler, Wilson Raj Perumal, was convicted of fixing games in Finland and is being investigated for allegedly fixing other matches in Europe and Africa. On Dec. 15, the South Africa Football Association said Perumal allegedly used tainted referees to manipulate games for betting purposes in 2010.
Experts say a typical scenario can go like this: Bookies set the odds for a game, not knowing it has been fixed. Right before the game starts, gangs unleash a torrent of bets, sometimes employing hundreds of poor workers on laptops. The wave hides the mastermind of the bet. If there is live wagering — on what the score will be at halftime or other topics — several bets can be made on the same fixed game.
Ninety or so minutes later, the bettors hand over their winnings to the boss.
In the past, the perception was that greedy players were behind match-fixing. Yet a study of eastern Europe released last year by the FIFPro union portrayed a region where players often are not paid for months but instead are intimidated, blackmailed or beaten up.
Many said they had been approached by match-fixers — an average of 11.9 percent across the region, with spikes in Greece (30 percent) and Kazakhstan (34 percent). In Russia — host of the 2018 World Cup — about 10 percent of players had been approached to throw a game.
In four nations — the Czech Republic, Greece, Russia and Kazakhstan — at least 43 percent of players said they knew about tainted games in their leagues.
Almost 40 percent of the eastern European players who reported being asked to fix a game also said they had been victims of violence.
Zimbabwe’s national team players were threatened at gunpoint in the dressing room and ordered to lose matches by their own soccer officials in 2009, the country’s new federation chief, Jonathan Mashingaidze, said in an interview in December.
Sometimes the threat comes from a teammate. In Italy, a goalkeeper under heavy pressure from organized crime to fix a game in 2010 resorted to drugging several of his teammates so they would play badly. They did — and one even crashed his car after the match, prompting a police investigation that uncovered the fix.Continued...