Integrity in football has come to the forefront yet again as FIFA currently investigates claims of spot-fixing in the Premier League. The investigation comes after former Southampton captain Claus Lundekvam made it public that he and many others earned substantial amounts of money off spot fixing during their time in the Premier League.
Lundekvam told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that several players and staff in the team bet hundreds of pounds on things like who would take the first throw-in, corner, or penalty; “things we could easily influence.” He said they never influenced the result of a match, but that spot-fixing “was accepted in those years in England at the end of the 90′s and beginning of the 2000s.
“We live in a bubble as football players, as pros, and we play around the clock when we are together. We play cards on the bus, on the Internet, everywhere we go,” Lundekvam said. “So, it’s a part of a lifestyle with a little adrenalin and excitement; so what we could gamble on, we did.”
“It’s not something I’m proud of having been part of, but we were absolutely not alone in this although that doesn’t make it any better,” he told NRK.
Yes, you could argue that what Lundekvam did would not really alter a match too much, but it does show how some players can be manipulated or lured in by the prospect of a big pay day, as well as how some illegal activities in sport can go under the radar.
Modern football has been rocked by an almost innumerable amount of scandals, be it doping, fraud or corruption. However the problem of match-fixing seems to be rearing its ugly head in several major national leagues around the world in what looks like a growing trend for the past few years.
The British Betting Scandals
To say that match-fixing is a recent phenomenon in football however would be untrue. It’s been around even in the early 1900’s, most notable of which is the British betting scandal in 1915 that involved Manchester United and Liverpool. The fixture between the two sides on that Good Friday afternoon of 1915 was fixed in United’s favour, with both sides benefiting from bets placed on the result. The win ensured that United avoided relegation that season and several players from both teams walked away with a handful of money.
Football has been through a lot since those days but still hasn’t managed to break the shackles of controversy. The United Kingdom saw a similar betting scandal unearthed in 1964. England international Peter Swan, the most high-profile culprit in the 1960s betting ring scandal, was found guilty of placing a bet on Ipswich beating his Sheffield Wednesday team. Swan was banned for life and jailed, as were nine others in a scandal involving almost 100 players and 16 clubs.
More recent incidents include the Bundesliga Scandal in 2005 that shook German football. Prosecutors, with help from the German Football Association, made an inquiry into allegations that Robert Hoyzer, a referee, was involved in fixing several matches that he had worked on. It was also reported that he was involved with gambling syndicates in Croatia. He later confessed his guilt and named several other referees and players involved in match fixing. He, along with the others received lifetime bans from the association. Oh, and add to that over two whole years of a prison sentence.
In 2006, the Italian Police uncovered what was supposed to be the largest match fixing scandal in Italian Serie A football. Here, major football teams Lazio, Fiorentina, AC Milan and Juventus were charged with rigging matches and selecting their favorite referees. Juventus, which had won the previous two Serie A titles, were stripped of them, and with the exception of Milan, all four teams were relegated to Serie B.
The list goes on and on. Just since 2011 we’ve seen the Turkish, South-Korean, Italian, Finnish and Norwegian national leagues get caught up in a whirlwind of Match-fixing allegations. It just goes to show that Match-fixing in football is absolutely rampant. Any attempt to deny the prevalence of corruption in football would be sheer naivety.
So why the sudden increase in the rate of matches being fixed?
This may, in part, be explained by the increase in online gambling, which has significantly increased the number of people with a direct economic interest in sporting competitions. Furthermore, it could also boil down to the fact that the internet limits the risk of being caught, and via the internet, gambling on sport events can even cross borders.
A closer look at the “Bochum” match-fixing scandal (Germany 2009) illustrates the cross border, as well as the economic dimensions of match-fixing. The police investigation team detected 323 suspicious matches (75 in Turkey, 69 in Germany and 40 in Switzerland).
The persons involved in match-fixing were spread all over Europe. Among the 347 suspects, almost half of them were living in Germany (150), in Turkey (66), in Switzerland (29), and others in Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Belgium and Netherlands.
The quantum of money being moved around as a result of these operations was massive. Around 12 million Euro was paid to referees, players, coaches and officials of sports federations in order to influence the results of matches. And this includes “Bonuses” of up to 1.75 million Euro according to German police.
A quick search through the internet will show you the rampancy of match-fixing in football, and what we’re really dealing with here. Therefore there is a stark requirement for a greater level of punishment to those involved. A large number of cases are dismissed due to the difficulty in presenting concrete evidence when it comes to cases like these. For example, it would be incredibly difficult to prove things such as a player under-performing purely as a result of his connection with a betting ring. The consequence of this is that the fight against match-fixing is set to be a long-drawn affair.
Match-fixing greatly undermines the integrity of sport. The saddest part of it is that many manipulations of the game have probably gone unnoticed, and the war against match-fixing might never be won. I dread to think that some of the great moments I’ve witnessed in the top leagues and cup competitions in world football may just have been altered by individuals and gambling groups. What drives us to the stadiums is the hope that sport can offer us a thrill-a-minute ride; but when it is the unpredictability of sport that is lost, then really, what do we have left?