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World Cup match-fixing is "highly probable"

Hill's book is based on interviews of more than 200 players, referees, officials, policemen, prosecutors and fixers

(Reuters)

Contrary to what Fifa says, it is highly likely that some World Cup football matches in South Africa will be fixed, says investigative journalist Declan Hill.

In an interview with swissinfo.ch, the Canadian reporter describes how match-fixers operate and why Switzerland’s Group H opponent Honduras are an ideal target for match-fixers, who will be present at the finals.

The former Oxford academic, documentary filmmaker and writer has won awards for his investigations into human rights abuses, the Mafia and organized crime.

He published “The Fix: Soccer and Organised Crime” in September 2008, which details his four-year investigation into the world of match-fixing, focusing on Asian fixers.

Fifa, the world football governing body, rejects the accusations and says it is taking the issue of match-fixing seriously. Ahead of the World Cup, it set up a confidential hotline for players, coaches and referees to report any attempts to bribe them.

It says all matches in South Africa will also be monitored by Early Warning System (EWS), a company formed to watch for match-fixing, while more than 400 bookmakers have agreed to report any irregular betting.

swissinfo.ch: Is match-fixing a new phenomenon?

Declan Hill: No, there is a long history of fixing. It began in the 19th century in England when rowing was a professional sport. Gamblers and corruption killed professional rowing and they may do the same to football today. Fixing existed in football too, but in recent years it has grown in scale.

swissinfo.ch: What has happened?

D.H.: Legal betting has had an influence on football. In England gambling is legal and you hear about millionaires betting £10 million (SFr16.7m) on a Champions League game between Manchester United and AC Milan.

But the arrival of illegal betting syndicates from Asia has completely changed the scale of things; according to US police, their annual turnover is around $450 billion (SFr516 billion).

swissinfo.ch: This is a huge amount. How does the match-fixing work?

D.H.: It's a reality. To give you an idea, Fifa will earn around SFr3 billion in TV rights from the 2010 World Cup. In three Asian countries alone - Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia - the total amount wagered during the tournament is estimated at SFr8 billion.

The whole thing works like a spider’s web. On the one side you have the gamblers and on the other a huge network of contacts, involving football agents, referees, coaches, officials and football association people.

swissinfo.ch: Which kind of teams might be open to corruption at the World Cup?

D.H.: The teams with good players who are underpaid and have little chance of winning the tournament. This may be the case for some African teams or countries from eastern Europe.

I cannot say with certainty that this will happen, but there is a high probability.

I have interviewed lots of people who belong to organised crime groups and have maintained contact with them. During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, they gave me the results of four games in advance.

I cried when I saw that Brazil had beaten Ghana 3-0. I had been warned about this beforehand. I'm sure that Ghanaian players were paid to lose the match. That had nothing to do with the Brazilians or the Brazilian Football Confederation, but with the players and officials from Ghana.

swissinfo.ch: Who pays to fix a match, how much and when?

D.H.: It depends, but at least $50,000 for each player. This can go up to $100,000 or $150,000, and two or three players involved. There may be corruption of coaches, referees or national football associations. In over 90 per cent of [match-fixing] cases, I imagine the favourite will win, but this prevents any element of surprise, which is what makes the sport so appealing.

swissinfo.ch: Are there any suspicious opponents in Switzerland’s group?

D.H.: There is Honduras. I don’t have any specific suspicions about this team, but some players earn $100 per month and their national football association has not yet paid their bonuses for qualifying for the finals.

They are ideal targets for the gamblers. And the risk is even higher during the third match of the initial group stage, where "small" teams are still in the competition.

In the case of Honduras, imagine if they lose to Spain and Chile. Their last game is against Switzerland and Honduras would have no chance of qualifying. Whoever bets millions on Switzerland would want to be certain of the defeat of Honduras.

swissinfo.ch: Could match-fixing happen at the quarterfinal stage?

D.H.: It's possible if there is a game between a large and a small team, but not between two big sides like Brazil, Italy, Germany or France.

swissinfo.ch: And what is Fifa doing about all this?

D.H.: Virtually nothing. They signed a deal aimed at detecting betting anomalies online and there is a player hotline for anyone who has been approached by fixers to report them anonymously. But the two measures are useless. I honestly don’t know why they don’t take more effective measures.

swissinfo.ch: What would you suggest?

D.H.: Firstly, they should create a kind of police unit, like Uefa [the Union of European Football Associations] did in 2008.

Next, Fifa should directly pay players from the "minor" selections [for participating] and not give the money to the federations.

Claudinê Gonçalves, swissinfo.ch (translated from Portuguese by Simon Bradley)

Recent football match-fixing

Fifa President Sepp Blatter said on June 7 that Fifa’s ethics committee would not take any further action against the English Football Association and former chairman Lord Triesman, who made accusations of match-fixing against Spain and Russia.

The committee examined claims by Triesman that Russia, which did not qualify for the World Cup, could help heavily favoured Spain bribe World Cup referees in exchange for support for its own bid to host the 2018 finals. Triesman resigned his post after his private conversation was revealed in a newspaper sting.

A match-fixing and betting scandal in Germany marred preparations for the 2006 World Cup. Referee Robert Hoyzer was jailed, and members of the Croatian crime syndicate behind that scam have been arrested in a current German probe.

Italy won the World Cup four years ago just as a scandal was unfolding at home that attracted worldwide scorn. Senior federation and club officials were banned from holding office after it was revealed they arranged for referees favourable to certain teams to get key domestic matches.

China has revisited a bribery and match-fixing scandal that first plagued its national league several years ago. A recent sweep of arrests caught federation head Nan Yong and retired referee Lu Jun, who officiated two matches at the 2002 World Cup.

UEFA says it invests "several million euros" each year in its own investigation unit, and a betting fraud detection system that monitors 29,000 matches each season.

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Swiss match-fixing

Nine Swiss League players – seven professionals and two amateurs – were suspended for at least one year in May 2010 for their part in fixing matches.

The Swiss Football Association was the first federation to sanction players using information from a Europe-wide probe into match-fixing and illegal betting launched by police in Germany last year. The fix appears to have been in on domestic league matches in Germany, Greece, Slovenia and Switzerland, plus Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary and Turkey.

The players were from lower-tier clubs Thun, Gossau, Fribourg and Wil.

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