Corruption in football laid bare

European Police authorities have revealed that over 600 football matches around the world have been deemed to be suspicious after a global investigation into match fixing.

Ireland has been spared inclusion on the list though the FAI has repeated that it is diligent in acting on any suspicious betting patterns that come to light and that preventative action was taken at two matches over recent seasons.

The games highlighted in Monday’s revelations are said to include Champions’ League and international matches and range across all of the major soccer nations including England, Italy and Germany.

The source of the main match fixing ‘gang’ is said to be Singapore and evidence is said to include email and recorded telephone conversations.  The report though is light on detail of how matches are fixed.  In a world where betting on sport is very much in the mainstream, how is it feasible to think that matches could be fixed?

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[ismember]When the floodlights failed in Man United’s game against Fulham at the weekend, suspicious minds immediately thought it was the work of a betting syndicate for whom the game was not going their way.  Many betting markets are declared void if the game is not completed and has to be replayed at a different time.

The same suspicions were considered but barely spoken during US coverage of Sunday night’s Superbowl.  The Baltimore ravens went into the game as 4 point underdogs but had stormed into a 21-6 Half time lead before Beyonce’s half time show took to the Superdome.

Heavyweight bettors who had sided with the favoured San Francisco 49’ers might have been sweating at this point but when the Ravens then immediately returned the kick off for another touchdown and a 22 point lead, the lights, quite literally, went out in New Orleans.

The game was delayed by 35 minutes with players having to stretch on the pitch to keep warm.  There was loose talk of the game being replayed from the point at which it had stopped which would have had a major impact on betting markets, as well of course on TV schedules, advertisers and fans.

In the end the lights were restored, as were the favourites hopes, getting back to within two points but ultimately failing to haul them in.

In soccer much of the betting in Asia takes place on a specific form of handicap betting where stronger teams have to overcome a notional start in order to win a bet.

As an example, Manchester United might have to give up 1.5 goals against Reading in order to produce a winning bet.  The odds are closer to even money but they have to win by two clear goals in order for the bet to land.

This makes the picture of how or why a game might be ‘tainted’ a little easier to understand.  Players acting on their own or in concert could ‘arrange’ for a game to finish with a win but a closer scoreline than might have been expected.  Points are still banked, few questions are raised.  If anything praise is heaped on the plucky underdog’s ability to rein in the more favoured team and ultimately the attention moves onto the next game.

Questions would also be asked of why a multi million pound player would ever get involved in such chicanery but here again there is a possible scenario where players are identified early in their career, approached with gifts or services that might appeal at that age and then, later in the career, find that a marker is called in that they never expected but are in a difficult position to refuse.

It will be interesting to watch as the Europol investigation proceeds and at who gets drawn into the net of suspicion over the coming weeks.

It is to be hoped that the swirl of rumour will clear to leave fewer than expected instances of corruption.  It is possible though that the opposite might be the case.

Tomorrow we will look at how betting companies themselves are making information available that will assist the authorities monitoring sporting integrity.[/ismember]

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