FIFA action needed as match fixing cases rise

With Mohamed bin Hammam clinging to his post but set to be banned from world football following the ethics committee’s hearing into his alleged bribery of FIFA delegates during the Presidential election, it is not a great time to be in the corridors of power in Zurich.

Yet around the world, FIFA is involved in tackling what is arguably a greater abuse of power. Match fixing. Turkey, South Korea, Greece, Italy, Israel, South Africa, Nigeria and even the Gold Cup have been affected by accusations of match rigging.

The most famous scandal of recent times, Calciopoli in Italy in 2006, still rumbles on. Inter Milan, who were awarded the title for that year after Juventus’ relegation to Serie B, are waiting to find out if new evidence brought against them means their title will be stripped from them.

Italy is currently in the midst of a smaller, yet equally troubling scandal, mainly in Serie B. Former Italian international Beppe Signori is the highest profile figure to be implicated in the betting ring in this incident, which centres around a game between Paganese and Cremona, in which it is alleged that players from the visitors had their drinks spiked.

A little further east, Greece is currently engulfed not just by huge financial problems, but by match fixing in football. A betting ring is under investigation, with figures from clubs as big as Olympiacos in the dock. 70 people have been named in connection with this controversy, and a game between Aris and Manchester City from last year’s Europa League has cropped up during hearings.

Aside from Greece, Israel is the latest country to find itself investigation match fixing, in particular Hapoel Haifa’s 3-2 win over Hapoel Petach-Tikva last season. The Israeli Football Association president has been questioned and Petach Tikva directors arrested in the scandal.

FIFA has refused to rule out involvement in an investigation into match fixing during some warm up games for South Africa’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, whilst South Korea is currently in the middle of an ‘open window’ for players to come forward and admit involvement in betting rings in the country. Last month a player was found dead in the most serious personal consequence of the spread of match rigging.

Most worrying perhaps is the phenomenon in the international arena; particularly friendly tournaments, such as one held earlier this year in Turkey. In this instance, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia and Bolivia were invited to play in two consecutive friendlies in the same stadium with the same officials. Seven goals were scored in the two games; all of which were penalties. Similarly suspicious was last month’s friendly between Nigeria and Argentina, won by the Africans 4-1. A severely under strength Argentina scored deep into injury time, well beyond what the fourth official indicated was to be played. The referee didn’t blow up though, strange in any game let alone a meaningless friendly, until he had awarded a penalty from which Wigan’s Mauro Boselli struck.

The spread of such match fixing is arguably world football’s most pressing concern, affecting as it does almost every corner of the globe. FIFA may have their own problems to deal with, but a focus on this practise, which hits directly at the very integrity of the game, is needed and urgent to clean up the sport.