Monday, March 11, 2013

Reality Bytes For The Future Of Fixing Matches

'Instead of zero tolerance there is, well, tolerance. Both Hungary and Bulgaria were found guilty of racial abuse in January. Their punishment? To play their next home World Cup qualifiers behind closed doors.'

Everything is quicker these days. And everyone wants to be the quickest. We don’t have time to digest convoluted things like statements, paragraphs, chapters. We’re looking for the gist. The headline. The byte.

If it fits within 140 characters, perfect. But just one tweet, please. Anymore and we’ve lost interest, to be honest. It’s our own fault. We have kids and mortgages and our salaries have been cut. We’re in negative equity. We’ve just done sixty hours this week with no overtime being paid. We’ve got to call around to the in-laws and are literally racing out the door right now. We’ve got about thirty seconds. Maybe forty. Hang on. The youngest has fallen over and cut her chin. We’ve literally got about 20 seconds now. So whatever you’ve got to tell us, tell us right now. Seriously.

Okay. There’s been match-fixing. Lots of it. So much of it that there’s been an investigation. Some Champions League games were fixed, one that was played in England, we think. World Cup qualifiers too. And it threatens the very fabric of the game.


Well, not really. That’s the gist.

Wow. That sounds serious. Really serious. Champions League, World Cup. What have the football authorities said about this?

Well, eh, we’re going to write to them and let them know that they should heed the, eh, warning. But did you not hear me? Match-fixing! In the Champions League!

Yes! So what games?

We can’t tell you. But they were big ones. We think.

According to Europol, the deep-rooted character of football is stained by these recent developments. Professionals have cheated for money. They’ve dirtied the once-clear, pure waters of the beautiful game. But it’s just another byte. Just another gist. It did its duty. It filled some space for a few minutes, got people talking for a while. The headlines were made. ‘Match-fixing: Fabric of the game is threatened’. The tweet heard around the world.

Is match-fixing a huge problem for football? Of course. At a very basic level, once there’s a genuine belief that it’s happening somewhere, the doubt creeps in. Your club. Your favourite player. Your favourite manager.

But even still, what happens after that?

When Calciopoli broke, it brought down some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Kind of. A year after the scandal was first uncovered, AC Milan, who were originally banned from competing in the 2007 Champions League because of their involvement with influencing referees, were crowned European winners in Athens.

Fiorentina, who were docked 15 points as punishment, finished the 2006/07 season in 6th and were playing in the Europa League just a few months later. Even Juventus, seen by their own as having been treated so appallingly, were back in the top-flight within a year. Another year later, they were back in the Champions League.

Two years ago, Sepp Blatter pounded his chest and proclaimed FIFA were introducing a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to match-fixing.

The big plan was to detect suspicious betting patterns early but there was a problem.

Where smaller bets were placed in a multitude of different betting shops, FIFA’s software system couldn’t join the dots. According to a recent Spiegel report, an ex-UEFA employee who had inside knowledge of how the system worked said it was ‘essentially blind’ if the bets weren’t excessive and didn’t stand out.

In other words, football’s governing body had provided the byte, the headline, the gist. They did their part. Just not very well.

In January, Sepp Blatter pounded his chest and proclaimed football should have a zero tolerance approach to racism. He’s come a long way since telling CNN in November 2011 that there was no racism and that players should remember it’s all just a game.

Where once a handshake was enough to build a bridge, deduction of points and relegation should be the norm. But instead of zero tolerance there is, well, tolerance. Both Hungary and Bulgaria were found guilty of racial abuse earlier this year. Their punishment? To play their next home World Cup qualifiers behind closed doors.

Match-fixing will continue, as it always has. It will creep up on those lower-ranked players, managers, officials and administrators. It will make criminals vast sums of money and leave the weak and desperate take the fall, if there is any.

At times, it will permeate the upper echelons of the game and for a brief moment or two, there will be a flurry of activity as the story breaks. But as always, change will only come from those willing to change.

The wrong-doers will only be caught if those chasing them are interested.

And right now, football’s leaders aren’t interested.

They’re just looking for the gist.
The headline.
The byte.  

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