As 2009 rum­bles on towards its con­clu­sion, it is fit­ting that foot­ball has managed to throw up the bet­ting scandal – a strange hybrid of the two main events to mark this year: the finan­cial crisis and swine flu. Here, we have a some­thing just as poi­sonous and widely spread as the latter, with the same root cause as the former – the fal­li­bi­lity and greed of man. 

When Peter Lima­cher announced on Friday 20 November, that the German aut­ho­ri­ties were inves­ti­ga­ting 200 games in nine coun­tries, the foot­ball world took a deep breath – this wasn’t Cal­cio­poli, a scandal limited to Italy, or Germany’s 2005 Robert Hoyzer affair, centred around a single person – this was widespread cor­rup­tion invol­ving poten­ti­ally dozens of people from across Europe, united in des­troying the inte­grity of a sport loved by mil­lions. It was stag­ge­ring – and yet as the days have gone on, more games have been deemed sus­pi­cious, more coun­tries have become embroiled and more arrests have been made. Pandora’s box is deci­dedly open. 

Ger­many has failed to react strongly enough

Ger­many sadly is the hig­hest pro­file victim – a country with see­mingly well-estab­lished struc­tures of foot­ball gover­nance, but one that has failed to react strongly enough to past match-fixing scan­dals. This time though, it seems like a com­pre­hen­sive approach is being taken, tack­ling the pro­blem head on. Cana­dian jour­na­list Dr. Declan Hill, author of the book The Fix (or Sichere Siege in German), says that this is down to the dili­gence of the German police, who no longer trust the DFB to ade­qua­tely address the pro­blem. »This time, the German foot­ball aut­ho­ri­ties have been deeply embarr­assed«, he says. »On the Thursday when it came out that the German orga­nised crime unit had found all this match-fixing, the Pre­si­dent of the DFB said, Don’t worry none of the games have been fixed in Ger­many.’ 

»That means that the German cops don’t trust the German foot­ball aut­ho­ri­ties any more, because on Friday he was deeply embarr­assed [by the reve­la­tions]. The inves­ti­ga­tors indi­cated clearly, We don’t trust these guys. We’re kee­ping this infor­ma­tion until we do a public press con­fe­rence and we’ve done out arrests. We are not col­la­bo­ra­ting with these guys any more. We had enough of them with the Robert Hoyzer affair. We had enough of them with the Wil­liam Lim affair.’ The German foot­ball aut­ho­ri­ties are not inte­rested and have not been inte­rested in fully unco­vering what has been going on and the German cops knew that this time around.« 

»You only get to sell your credi­bi­lity once«

With such widespread pro­blems, it was impe­ra­tive that German police move swiftly, before the pro­blem became endemic in foot­ball here. Fans of big 1. Bun­des­liga clubs may be gra­teful their teams have not faced any accu­sa­tions – but such clubs are in no way immune, and it is only stam­ping on the pro­blem now that pre­vents the spread of fixing higher up the league pyramid. Says Hill: »People say, Bayern Munich or Wolfs­burg, or other big teams aren’t being approa­ched – ok – but where do they get their players from? They come from youth teams, they come from the Second Divi­sion, they come from leagues like Croatia. They might not be fixing now in the Bun­des­liga – and I’m not sure that’s true – but you could still lose your league in five years, because we’ve con­firmed that fixers are fixing youth games and the teams fee­ding the big clubs. You don’t get to be a virgin again. In other words, when you take money from a fixer, you don’t get to refuse the next time. If you take money as a young German player in a youth league for a small team, and you show up at Bayern Munich, you don’t get to say to the cri­mi­nals, I think I’ve retired from fixing now’ – all they have to do is leak your name to offi­cials or tell the papers what you’ve done – you only get to sell your credi­bi­lity once.« 

The vul­nera­bi­lity of foot­ball then is signi­fi­cant and alt­hough Eng­land has so far not been impli­cated in the cur­rent inves­ti­ga­tion, Hill accuses the foot­ball aut­ho­ri­ties there of com­pla­cency: »The Eng­lish are stu­diously igno­ring the pro­blem«, he says. Burying its head in the sand, Eng­land is hoping to avoid the match-fixing con­ta­gion swee­ping the rest of the con­ti­nent.

»Eng­land haven’t inves­ti­gated this, and they don’t have a secu­rity unity at the Foot­ball Asso­cia­tion«, says Hill. »There is an extra­or­di­na­rily effi­cient and effec­tive gamb­ling moni­to­ring system at work in the UK fee­ding infor­ma­tion back to the Asian fixers. I’ve been in book­ma­kers offices when really pro­mi­nent Pre­mier League players phone up to place their bets. We’ve seen all the weird odds move­ments on lower Eng­lish leagues of exactly the same kind that have been seen in Ger­many.« 

Hill: »It’s a reso­lute Eng­lish racism«

Stuart Mawhinney, a spo­kesman from the Eng­lish Foot­ball Asso­cia­tion strongly refutes claims that they are in denial about the pro­blem: »We are not com­pla­cent about the threat«, he says. »There is also a dis­tinc­tion to be made bet­ween irre­gular bet­ting pat­terns’ and match fixing’ and we have not had any firm evi­dence of match fixing to date.« Hill believes though that there is a dis­tinct Eng­lish men­ta­lity at play, pre­ven­ting them from taking action on the same scale as the Ger­mans: »It’s a reso­lute Eng­lish racism. You guys will not listen to a for­eigner. The only people you believe are upper class Eng­lish guys with stupid accents«, he says. »If the Eng­lish police did the type of inves­ti­ga­tion that the Ger­mans have done, they may not find as large a net­work there, but wit­hout doubt they find things going on.«

Mawhinney says plenty is being done in Eng­land to combat the menace of fixers: »We couldn’t com­pare our­selves to other coun­tries, or spe­cu­late on the rea­sons [why Ger­many has been affected and not Eng­land]«, he says. »We have spe­cific rules in place on bet­ting in foot­ball. We have close links with the asso­cia­tion of Bri­tish book­ma­kers, the Gamb­ling Com­mis­sion, bet­ting exch­anges and memo­ran­dums of under­stan­ding with larger bet­ting ope­ra­tors. We have a spe­cific inte­grity panel desi­gned to deal with this issue. We pro­vide gui­d­ance and edu­ca­tion to clubs, players and coa­ches at all levels of the game in this country. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives take part in club visits to pro­vide advice and also pam­phlets on these issues. We work with the Pro­fes­sional Footballer’s Asso­cia­tion [England’s players’ union] and their edu­ca­tion pro­grammes, more spe­ci­fi­cally to advise youth and junior players.« What’s more, says Mawhinney, the FA will be paying close atten­tion to how the inves­ti­ga­tion in Ger­many unfolds: »We always seek greater under­stan­ding of the scale of these issues, and look to gain best prac­tices from other asso­cia­tions in hand­ling these issues.« 

»Not­hing has been done to pro­tect these inter­na­tional tour­na­ments«

It is safe to say then, that the inte­grity of the sport will remain firmly in the spot­light this year, not only with the ongoing German inves­ti­ga­tion, but with the first World Cup ever to be held in Africa on the way, and before that the popular African Cup of Nations. With com­pe­ti­tions as august as the UEFA Cham­pions League affected, should we be fearful too for the inte­grity of these tour­na­ments? Hill’s response is imme­diate: »Of course«, he says. »You only need to see what Rhein­hardt Fabisch had to say about what was going on at the last African Cup of Nations [where as coach of Benin he was asked to fix a game], or what FIFA them­selves says hap­pened at the Women’s World Cup. Not­hing has been done to pro­tect these big inter­na­tional tour­na­ments, but it would only take a matter of weeks to improve secu­rity. For some reason though, I haven’t been invited to FIFA’s emer­gency mee­ting on Wed­nesday!«

Will Sepp Blatter and com­pany take action in his place?