May 30th, 2012
12:18 PM ET

How can football tackle match fixing?

Italy has been gripped by a match-fixing scandal which has disrupted the national team ahead of Euro 2012. (Getty Images)
Italy has been gripped by a match-fixing scandal which has disrupted the national team ahead of Euro 2012. (Getty Images)

You know why I never watched wrestling, even when I was a kid? I knew it was fixed. You could tell the guys in the ring were acting, not competing. Even when my friends idolized the likes of Rick Flair or Hulk Hogan, I just couldn’t get into it.

I thought the whole thing was silly. Without true and pure competition, wrestling had no interest to me whatsoever.

Why should I bring this up right now? Because in my mind, after what happened this week in Italy, it is clear that the future of football is at stake. Either something is done to clean up the sport, or fans will simply stop caring about what is still known as “the beautiful game.”

I will be honest with you, I was shocked when 19 people, including Lazio captain Stefano Mauri, were arrested on Monday. Trust me, I am not so naive to think football is perfect. I have seen how corruption has tainted the game in various countries.

Italy is not the exception, far from it. There have been cases of match fixing in Portugal, Germany, Greece, South Korea, Brazil and Turkey among other nations in recent years.

However, what happened this week was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was not expecting to see the captain of a top Serie A team arrested in public.

Furthermore, I was also stunned to see police forces raid the training centre of Italy’s national team looking for evidence linking international defender Domenico Criscito to the ongoing investigation. The whole scene was for me, honestly, quite simply shocking.

So where do we stand? What can be done? There is no doubt that football’s governing bodies have to find a way to regulate the behavior of players, coaches, referees and officials.

Can everyone’s phones be tapped? No, that is impossible, but authorities need to do more to ensure there is no foul play.

What FIFA and UEFA need to do right now is invest heavily in their anti-corruption task forces and make sure they have the resources and the power to investigate the relationships between people in the game and betting syndicates and organized crime gangs.

Football’s governing bodies make hundreds of millions of dollars every year. There is no excuse not to spend a large chunk of that cash on something which is threatening the integrity and future of the game. Action is needed, and it is needed now.

Something else that needs to be done is to introduce serious consequences for people who have been caught fixing the outcome of matches or bribing referees.

Too often players and officials are handed small bans and fines or suspended jail sentences. The leagues and federations must have the power and the courage to punish everyone who is guilty, even if these people are influential in sport or politics.

In Turkey for example, Fenerbahce president Aziz Yildirim has been re-elected as the club's president, despite being in prison awaiting the verdict of a match-fixing trial.

In Italy, back in 2006, when Juventus were found guilty of match fixing, all they got was one year in the Serie B - the second division.

Was that enough? No, if you ask me. The consequences have to be a lot larger, only then will everyone in the game take the problem seriously.

If no changes are made then take my word for it, football will die a slow death. The last thing we want is to think that everyone is acting rather than competing, on the field of play.

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Alex Sequeira

    Why do we watch a movie where the entire plot is predetermined by the Director?
    Why do we read a novel where the entire plot is predetermined by the author?
    Because the viewer doesn't know the plot!

    May 30, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  2. jumpingpolarbear

    Life ban is the only way to go!

    May 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  3. obboyett

    i hate wrestling for similar reasons

    May 30, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  4. Killian Donnellan

    Good article, I fear the future of football is at stake if this match fixing carries on. Fifa and Uefa need to do something urgently and have to splash the cash to invest in an anti corruption force to deal with this issue. Whoever is involved with this match fixing and is ever charged should get life bans. I don't care if they are top players or managers they need to be got rid of the game, because they are the people that are slowing destroying it. Clubs involved should also be relegated to the lowest division in there country. I these form of punishments I have listed would send a strong message to those, who are corrupting the game we love and adore

    May 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
  5. Alice

    Pedro most of your pieces are often controversial though i love them but this is spot on. i remember how annoyed i was to find out that wrestling is acting. We cannot have the same in football especially when we love that game so much. FIFA should really do something about it. I love your pieces by the way.

    May 30, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Reply
  6. Mr. Fix It

    FIFA won't do anything about it b/c, guess what folks? They're in on it. It's all fake, from the top down. Sorry, but it's terribly true.

    May 30, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  7. Mark

    Good article, but you forget that FIFA and the national bodies are themselves large corrupt old-boy organizations that make a few individuals extremely wealthy. They will never clean themselves up with so much money at stake.

    May 30, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Reply
  8. truth

    FIFA itself is do you think paul the octopus predicted outcomes in previous world cup?..all professional sports are rigged. how do you think saints won after hurricane katrina? how do you think japanese womens soccer team won right after tsunami? and what about pacquiao vs marquez?? people are stupid to follow professional sports..its all about selling jerseys and hats. its a billion dollar business. the bottom line of business is profit.

    May 30, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Reply
  9. Durward

    Mark I agree with you 100%. Rangers of Scotland went into admiistration !4th Febuary . Yesterday they took the SFA to HIgh Court president of SFA is ex Rangers director and two other on the board. Should FIFA, UEFA become involved. Scotland could lose ALL interest and particapation in the beautiful game for a long time..Due to corupttion and old boys CLUB.

    May 30, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Reply
  10. alehandro

    Football will not "die a slow death" if corruption goes undetected or inadequately punished any more than doping offenses have reduced audiences for sports such as athletics, cycling and baseball. Idealists may point to the lack of morality being a turn-off, but in reality I'd wager that most fans pay to watch a spectacle and the superficial pursuit of glory regardless of what lies beneath. That's why your wrestling analogy doesn't support your doomsday prediction. Despite your youthful naivete, pro wrestling has never been real, nor does it claim to be, as it brands itself "sports entertainment" rather than "sport". Whatever the semantics, the WWE continues to attract massive audiences worldwide, proving that there's a huge appetite for the fake and melodramatic even at the expense of integrity. Football is not a self-confessed sham like pro wrestling but in many ways that makes its underbelly much darker. Yet, historically, football has weathered every scandal thrown at it, on and off the field, and emerged stronger or at least as strong in the aftermath. That's not to say that the football authorities shouldn't take a harder line on match-fixing etc. If only to justify all their public hand wringing football officials need to step up and issue some draconian punishments as that is the only deterrent that stands a chance of being effective. But one bitter pill will not cure all, and, if football's normal diplomacy prevails, it's unlikely to be that bitter anyway. That's because football is ultimately a business and what business, especially a cash cow like football, wants to publicly undermine the integrity of its own product? So, as is the case with racism, the status quo will remain in place, with football issuing the occasional slap on the wrist to the most careless offenders "just to show it cares", while, in the meantime, the nefarious dealings of the rest will continue unabated, masked by a curtain of righteousness that the public chooses not to peep behind. Cynical? Yes, but realistic enough to know that football's Corinthian spirit has been dead longer than Andre the Giant and shows no sign of ever being resurrected.

    June 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Reply
  11. Paul Martin

    Sports are BIG $$$$$. AS long as huge crowds of dedicated fans keep righteously attending them and pouring their hard earned dough into the stands.........corruption and organised crime will continue to fix matches, interfere with control of teams,etc and do whatever it takes to circumvate the laws and rules !

    We only here about these things when someone on the inside squeals or some old retired gangster decised to write or do an interview about what REALLY goes on,etc,etc !

    The ONLY way this will ever change is if and when government gest serious about infiltrating them and bringing the culprits to justice !

    June 3, 2012 at 5:37 am | Reply
  12. An-d-roo

    It's taken Juventus 9 years to get back to where they were. Yet this wasn't a harsh enough punishment? As far as football goes, relegating teams to the Serie C1 (appealed to the Serie B), stripping a team of 2 titles, giving the teams involved a points penalty in the following season, and a life ban for Moggi, it was a pretty fair punishment in the first place.

    June 3, 2012 at 7:11 am | Reply
  13. Eddie

    It defies belief that Italy in particular is in the grip of another match fixing scandal. As Pedro points out, it wasn't that long ago that Italian teams were relegated for their part in fixing games. Neither is this an isolated or recent phenomenon – you can go back some 20 years to the English league and people like Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar and Wimbledon striker John Fashanu in the early 90s.

    It won't kill the game, of course, but it's infuriating that it won't go away. Whatever justification there was in Grobbelaar's time (players then were on a fraction of the wages players make now), there's little reason players should need to be taking backhanders.

    I suppose the difference now is that it's done to assist teams rather than individuals. With hundreds of millions at stake for winning a league or Europeans title, the relatively small cost of nobbling a player or official gets paid back in spades.

    Where there are obscene amounts of money to be made, there's always the motive to rig the result. Look at horse racing and cricket for other notable examples.

    Unfortunately, you get the impression that the likes of Blatter are more interested in minimizing the PR damage than addressing the ongoing issues.

    June 3, 2012 at 8:18 am | Reply
  14. Francisco

    I like what Pedro wrote but Alehandro is, unfortunately, right.

    June 3, 2012 at 8:48 am | Reply
  15. Dr.Cajetan Coelho

    Life is short. Watching top quality football is indeed a joy. May our footballers, match officials and team owners uphold the spirit of the Game.

    June 7, 2012 at 11:40 am | Reply
  16. Gila 87

    "I was not expecting to see the captain of a top Serie A team arrested in public."

    Lazio is far from being a top Serie A team.

    June 7, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  17. Kapil

    @MrAmont86 look at any wing in the irb i promise they all move. the ageeumrnt here is this. nobody is saying nfl stars are not in shape they are great athletes but gods they are not. as a matter of fact now that rugby sevens is in the olympics america is creating franchises all over the place. ex nfl players and people who didnt get picked up for the nfl are being offerd to try out. rugby 7s will be the sport of the 21st century check it out. im not fast enough for it ill stick 2 15s

    July 3, 2012 at 2:25 am | Reply
  18. Jack Hargreaves

    Would respectfully suggest that people read "The Fix" by Declan Hill.
    Excellent book on this very topic.
    Any action has to start with FIFA, therein lies the problem.

    July 3, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Reply

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