The FIFA World Cup in Brazil may have other problems to deal with aside from the protests and riots that are expected to increase as the first match draws near. As more internal reports have been released, the actual threat of match fixing to international play has become more widely known. The reality of match fixing has been understood for decades as a commonplace occurrence in select countries and federations. Those concerned for the so-called integrity of international soccer have been reassured by reports that claim match rigging is exclusive to underdeveloped and unregulated federations. Unfortunately, attempts at reassurance have been unable to quell the reality of the situation. In the world of illegal sports gambling, the FIFA World Cup is not only a prime, but also an attainable target for rigging. This fact has aroused the question of which games in particular are potential red flags for match fixing.
The New York Times released a piece on the now-exposed match-fixing operation that plagued the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Wilson Raj Perumal, a previously convicted and notorious leader of a Singaporean match-fixing syndicate, had recently released a memoir describing his conquests in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Perumal was able to orchestrate the appointment of corrupt referees for select games, of which in retrospect it is believed at least five were successfully rigged. The New York Times, along with other news outlets following the story, did not feel confident that FIFA had taken adequate steps to further investigate the 2010 World Cup blunder or to ensure that the 2014 World Cup is capable of deflecting rigged games.
While initial reports claimed that match fixing had become prolific within underdeveloped federations, recent accounts show that this is not necessarily the case. For example, Federbet, a European organization that monitors suspicious gambling patterns, reported that match fixing in England increased by 20 percent in 2014. The organization also claimed that there were more fixed games in England than any other country last year. Federbet said that neither Serie A, Champions League, nor the Europa League were immune to fixed matches. Clearly not “underdeveloped” by any means, the recent reports regarding these leagues have exposed the brutal truth that match fixing has infiltrated more lucrative organizations. According to FIFA head of security, Ralf Mutschke, not only is the World Cup in Brazil vulnerable, match fixing is anticipated for certain games.
In fact, there has already been a red flag issued in connection with the World Cup in Brazil. The National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Scottish Football Association (SFA) asked FIFA to issue a warning for the Nigeria-Scotland match (game result, 2-2). According to the SFA, the May 28 match was red flagged after the agency had received intelligence of bids “to rig the game.” Mutschke has claimed on behalf of FIFA security that, in addition to friendly matches, the third and final games of group play are primary targets for fixing. FIFA’s Early Warning System is reportedly working to minimize rigging by monitoring gambling patterns leading up to matches.
Match fixing may not be merely an endemic problem of shaky federations and underdeveloped nations. In light of recent incidents in England and other more established leagues, the issue of match fixing has proven to be epidemic. The World Cup in Brazil has already had a scare and its head of security has stated that the highest risk games are in group play. In particular, the third and final matches of group play. To put it in perspective, the third and final games of Group G are Germany-Ghana and Portugal-Ghana. Hopefully FIFA’s Early Warning System will prove effective enough to protect the integrity of World Cup soccer and to prevent match fixing.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson