This isn’t a post about the World Cup bidding process fix we all knew was in and we are just starting to learn the details about, but a follow-up to Monday’s discussion of Fifa’s supposedly aggressive initiative to tackle match-fixing around the world.
It’s been admitted by Fifa that hundreds of games have been fixed in the past few years. In response, it’s investing a few million bucks a year out of its billion dollar-plus cash reserves into education of players and coaches about match-fixing. Note: that’s education, not investigation.
We commented that given the key problem in world soccer with regard to match-fixing is the lack of investigation, this seemed like a half-hearted effort by Fifa. The world’s leading authority on match fixing, Declan Hill, agrees, explaining he told the very same thing personally to Sepp Blatter back in 2008 with apparently no impact:
In FIFA’s announcement about their new anti-corruption centre, there is no actual money being put aside for investigations or enforcement. Nor is there a mandate to investigate corruption inside FIFA. Without these things the centre will largely be a sham. To be clear, FIFA does not investigate match-fixing or corruption. Nor does Interpol investigate crimes. All of the money that FIFA has given to the centre is for education.
Ask yourself – what do players need education for? Do you really need to explain to them which goal they are supposed to score in? What does a referee need education for? Is it really that difficult to figure out they are supposed to do their job without taking bribes?
I am not being facetious. If there are no investigation or enforcement arms at this anti-corruption centre, then to teach athletes and referees about the dangers of match-fixing is simply providing a bunch of ‘how-to-be-corrupt’ courses. No one will be afraid to take the money. Why should they be? There are no resources devoted to catching people who are fixing games. So the anti-corruption centre promises to be one of those well-constructed snooze-fest places where people go to hear their bosses give seminars full of corporate nonsense and then leave to get on with the lives.
As it happens, there is a concrete example in the news in Asia right now illustrating this very problem, with several reports of match fixing in Malaysia coming out this week. Police in Malaysia have asked for help from Fifa in investigating suspicious activity:
The police need intelligence from world football governing body Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) to kick-off investigations into a global match-fixing network allegedly involving Malaysians.
Federal Criminal Investigation Department chief Datuk Seri Mohd Bakri Mohd Zinin said this was necessary for the police to analyse and launch certain operations in connection with the case.
“We want the investigating team from FIFA to provide us intelligence on the alleged match-fixing network operating from Malaysia,” he told reporters at the Selangor police headquarters here today.
It was reported that in the near future, FIFA head of security Chris Eaton would lead a team of investigators to Malaysia, as part of the probe into claims that more than 300 matches in three continents were influenced by match-fixers.
The only problem? As Hill notes, Fifa doesn’t really have a match fixing investigative team. Eaton himself commented this week to the Malay Mail: “We are not an investigation agency. We are a football organisation and our duty is to protect, prevent and eliminate such illegal activities.”
Eaton, head of global security for Fifa and a former Interpol official, does have a long track record in investigating organised crime.
But Fifa still has not provided much muscle for him to work with. In January, Fifa surprisingly backtracked on an agreement to hire Interpol’s senior anti-corruption detective Frederick Lord, raising eyebrows regarding the organisation’s commitment to fighting corruption right when allegations of wrongdoing within its own halls were circling following the controversial World Cup bidding vote. The Telegraph of London reported:
Lord is a former colleague of Fifa’s security adviser, Chris Eaton, an Australian detective who stepped down as Interpol’s director of operations last March to advise Fifa on security issues.
Lord, who has spoken extensively on anti-corruption issues at conferences around the world, previously worked in the Australian police’s Internal Affairs Covert Services Unit, which focused on police corruption.
Fifa’s withdrawal of the offer to Lord prompted security sources to suggest that the organisation lacks the stomach to tackle the reputational issues it faces.
One source suggested that Fifa executive committee members had objected to the appointment because they feared Lord would conduct internal investigations, but a Fifa spokesman denied this.
The recent bid process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was mired in controversy following allegations of corruption against Fifa officials. Fifa executive committee members Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii were banned for one and three years respectively by Fifa’s ethics committee, and four other officials were also banned.
The effectiveness of Fifa’s investigation into allegations of collusion between the Spain-Portugal and Qatar bids has also been questioned after the ethics commission was unable to establish a case against them.
If Fifa cannot get its own house in order, it’s of course little wonder its efforts around the world to tackle match-fixing seem so tepid.