Recent investigative reporting by the New York Times, shows just how easy — and prevalent — soccer fixing is. From buying referees to intimidating players, powerfully corrupt people with money invest heavily to get their piece of the multi-billion dollar pie. As Brazil gets set to host the world’s most popular sporting event — the World Cup — many in Brazil’s neighbor, Argentina, are claiming that the fix is already in and the outcome has been decided.
In May, 2010, according to the report, Ibrahim Chaibou, refereed an exhibition match between South Africa and Guatemala. The match was a lead-up to the year’s World Cup and Chaibou was ready to call it in favor of South Africa. He had been paid $100,000, all in $100 bills, to make sure South Africa won. A referee as well as an employee of the bank where Chaibou deposited his money recalled the day he walked in with a bag full of the money. The banker was so grateful for Chaibou’s business that he gave the crooked referee a gift of commemorative coins that had the face of Nelson Mandela.
Chaibou had been chose to referee the game by a business located in Singapore. FIFA, soccer’s governing body, said in a confidential report that the company was a front of a well-known match rigging syndicate. FIFA’s report and supporting documents, obtained by The New York Times, show the vulnerability of the World Cup and the real likelihood of match fixing during the June 2014 celebration in Brazil.
The report shows that match-rigging has climbed into the top-tier of global soccer. With billions of dollars at stake, the Argentine mafia has exploited this weakness for betting purposes in, as the report says, “clever and brazen ways.” The report also details, through interviews and emails, matches that were targets of fixing even included a game between the United States and Australia.
While many have known of the corruption problem within world-class soccer for years, the South African case, as reported by The New York Times, gives a rare detailed insight into the methods professional gamblers use to fix matches. The problem is compounded by FIFA’s inability to police itself and its member federations. The 44 page report includes Chaibou’s trip to the bank along with other instances of matches being rigged.
FIFA will receive roughly $4 billion in revenue for broadcast fees, sponsorship deals and ticket sales. The problems revealed in the report show that the Zurich based organization has problems which are now shadowing the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Investigators with FIFA have concluded that fixers have been aided by South African soccer officials and yet, FIFA has not accused anyone of game fixing nor has anyone been barred from the sport as a result of the matches in question.
The report goes on to detail how many national soccer federations competing in Brazil are as vulnerable to match-fixing as South Africa’s has been. With federations and their teams being financially shaky, administratively sloppy and politically divided, the setting is ripe in South America’s largest country.
Fixers, in South America, are drawn to soccer because of the money it generates in the large and unregulated Argentine betting market. Match-fixing, if planned well, can be hard to detect. Players may deliberately miss shots, referees might throw out players or give penalty kicks and, sources say, some team officials in Buenos Aires have outright told players to lose a match.
While many in Argentina are hoping for a good national outcome for the World Cup, others aren’t so sure and are holding their breath.
By Jerry Nelson