Continuing with the soccer theme... Last week, Europol, the European Union’s criminal-intelligence agency, held a press conference in the Hague to “announce the results of a Joint Investigation Team on match-fixing in football.” This has some interest to the soccer-hating portion of the planet (talking about us, people), since World Cup festivities in Rio are a little more than a year off and NFL fans will probably watch a few of those games.
Sitting behind what appear to be high school cafeteria tables pushed together, underneath giant letters hung on a wall spelling out “EUROPOL,” are representatives from Europol, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Eurojust, and Interpol.
They are assembled to announce that after a 19-month probe — Operation VETO, to you — investigators have uncovered 680 games that look as if they might have been fixed. More, the games include 150 international matches in South World (Asia, Africa, Latin America) and 380 games in Europe. Games include World Cup matches, European championships, Champions League games, semipro games, the whole deal. We are invited to give thanks for the splendid cooperation between enforcement agencies working together like brothers and sisters.
And then it starts to get a little weird. Panelists deflected questions about how many of the 680 games had already been reported in the press and how many were new. Panelists wouldn’t name any of the teams or players involved in fixing games.
Quoting from a New York Times story, “Europol described a wide-ranging network of fixing that struck at the sport’s core. Nearly $11 million in profits and nearly $3 million in bribes were discovered during the investigation, which uncovered match-fixing activity on a scale we have not seen before.... The scope of the investigation covered games from roughly 2008 to 2011.
“‘This is a sad day for European football,’ said Rob Wainwright, director of Europol. ‘This is now an integrity issue for football.’ Ralf Mutschke, Director of Security for world soccer’s governing body FIFA, said sports bodies and prosecutors needed to work more closely together.”
We can stop here for minute. If an international crime syndicate is fixing hundreds of soccer games (by far the most popular sport on the planet) and only pulls down $3 million a year for themselves, then this must be the most incompetent crime syndicate known to man. If there was ever a reason to go legit, here it is. This crime syndicate needs to be in banking.
Former FIFA security director Chris Eaton believes the real number of fixed matches is around 6800, one hundred times higher than the figure given at the press conference.
As much as we all like a press conference featuring cops congratulating themselves on the job they’ve done, since the investigation ended in 2011, one wonders why these glad tidings have taken so long to reach us. No worries — those years were not wasted. Europol officials said 50 people have been arrested and another 425 people were under suspicion. If that doesn’t cripple a top-notch crime syndicate, I’ll eat my hat.
The civilian expert in all this is a Canadian journalist, Declan Hill. Hill earned a Ph.D. in Sociology out of Oxford, worked for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) as an investigative journalist, then as anchor of Newsworld International. He’s made documentaries from the Philippines, Kosovo, Iraq, Bolivia, and Turkey, covering the Mafia, blood feuds, ethnic cleansing, honor killings...you get the picture. He also wrote the seminal book on soccer gambling, The Fix, published in April 2010.
Fixing soccer games and America’s baseball steroids scandal share a common underpinning. In both cases, the information was known to the public for years, but the public didn’t want to know, so nothing happened. According to authorities — and, more believably, according to Hill, the man behind soccer’s crime syndicate is happy Singapore resident Dan Tan. He’s happy because Singapore refuses to honor international arrest warrants made out in his name.
Here’s Hill being interviewed by James Shaman, a sportscaster on the Score Television Network in Canada. Hill was asked to predict the 2014 World Cup winner.
He declined and then said, “Here’s the unfortunate guarantee I can give you. One hundred percent there will be the same Asian match fixers that have gone to the Under 17s, the Under 20, the Women’s World Cup, the Olympic soccer tournament, and World Cups for the past 20 years. I guarantee they will be there. I guarantee they will be approaching dozens of players on different teams. They’ll be approaching the referees. Will those guys take their money? I don’t know. I really hope they do not, but I know that they’ll be there and I know that FIFA has done nothing effective to stop them from being there.”