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article imageOp-Ed: Will Brazil’s World Cup be fixed?

By Philip Jeffery     Apr 30, 2014 in Sports
At the time of writing, the 2014 World Cup is under 50 days away from taking its first breath in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It is, in truth, a competition like no other.
But this could well be under threat. In a month that has seen a further seven players arrested as part of what is being described as the biggest match-fixing scandal in English football history, there are clearly dark forces lurking in football whose actions extend far beyond that of what we’re made aware of in the media.
Match fixing has become a persistent problem in the world game — particularly within Europe — with countless games being called into question as a world investigation into the issue rumbles on. With no clear signs of the epidemic slowing down, is it possible that the world’s greatest sporting competition will fall prey to match fixing?
For anyone who thinks there are echelons of football completely immune to fixings and bribery, there is substantial evidence to suggest otherwise. Illegal betting is a £306 billion industry, and as such at least 380 European football matches have been fixed in some form or another. The continent’s exposure as a hotbed for criminal activity has been driven by a powerful gambling market in the Far East, the extent of which is detailed in this infographic from Sports Betting Online.
One of the more infamous cases of the past includes Italy’s recent ‘Calcioscommesse’ match-fixing and betting scandal, which involved more than 20 teams from all divisions and notable figures such as World Cup-winning midfielder Gennaro Gattuso and Juventus manager Antonio Conte (who was subsequently banned for four months for his involvement).
Elsewhere, Hungarian and Bosnian officials received lifetime bans after FIFA found them guilty of "unlawfully influencing match results" in a friendly international tournament where all the goals scored were from penalties.
So how big a threat is match fixing to the World Cup?
In tournaments of recent years there have been suspicions over matches, the majority of which focusing on South Korea’s incredible (but heavily assisted) run to the semi-finals in 2002.
The co-hosts beat Italy 2-1 thanks to a golden goal from Ahn Jung-Hwan before beating Spain on penalties in even more controversial circumstances. On paper this sounds like a fairy tale, but when you consider the fact that these two matches included three legitimate goals inexplicably being disallowed, an incorrect dismissal of Francesco Totti for “diving” and a ludicrously high number of offside decisions, it reveals one of the most scandalous incidents in the tournament’s history.
It doesn’t help that one of the referees has since been banned twice for match-fixing, while the other retired amid allegations of receiving a new car for helping South Korea to advance.
Unfortunately, the problems have persisted. In an interview with Channel 4, Chris Eaton, FIFA’s former head of security, recounted how FIFA were investigating a group game from South Africa’s 2010 World Cup between Nigeria and Greece — this is the first time such a high-level game has been the subject of a confirmed investigation.
Rumours of match fixing for this year’s World Cup appear to have been rife as far back as 2011, when FIFA investigators were alerted to unusual betting patterns in connection with the two-legged tie between Cambodia and Laos in the first round of the Asian Football Confederation qualifying zone.
What’s more, controversy arose during the group draw on 6 December last year after a ball selector’s hands were (perhaps) suspiciously placed out of view from the camera when the teams were picked.
Admittedly this is a far less likely circumstance, but with FIFA’s own corruptive history it’s not surprising why it aroused such suspicion. Countless stories of illegal payments and shady dealings by top-ranking officials such as Jack Warner have ripped the organisation’s integrity to pieces in recent years.
Security, however, is much tighter this year, with each game being rigorously monitored and any suspicious betting patterns being scrutinised. Players from all 32 competing nations will now be given “integrity sessions” by FIFA officials should anyone be approached by match fixers. FIFA security chief Ralf Mutschke is well aware of the dangers present, stating in an interview for the Telegraph earlier this year:
“FIFA, and in particular myself, has to make the presumption that the World Cup itself is under threat and implement the maximum protection for our competition as we can.”
Whether Mutschke and his team will succeed in banishing match fixing from this summer’s Word Cup remains to be seen. The biggest threat, he believes, would more likely come during the final round of group games in matches involving teams already eliminated, thus becoming more vulnerable to bribery.
It’s unmistakable that the potential rewards for illegal syndicates on a stage as huge as this will inevitably generate significant interest; after all, the tournament generates approximately £3 billion with 2010’s final between Spain and Holland drawing an average television audience of 530.9 million.
But Mutschke remains confident of holding off any potential threat, stating that his team are “trying to protect the World Cup from fixing, and we have set up a pretty wide range of measures to do so.”
In an era where the domestic game has suffered considerably at the hands of criminality, keeping the integrity of football’s most prestigious competition intact is more vital than ever.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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