The declaration of former Football Association President, Lord Triesman, that FIFA operates like a “Mafia family”, referred to the international football body’s recent behaviour when faced with sprawling accusations of corruption in connection to Qatar’s 2022 Olympics winning bid. While critics have demanded that they reopen the bidding process and have called for an inquiry into the accusations of bribery, Lord Triesman decried Fifa’s “decades-long tradition of bribes, bungs and corruption” as making prosecuting the accused almost impossible.
It’s more than likely that such endemic corruption from the top of the football chain has trickled all the way down, infesting both the national and the league levels. Matching fixing and money laundering appear to be a prime trend in European football these days, involving everyone from players and referees to club owners and football federations, and have transformed the sport from an enjoyable pastime, to an ensnaring web of criminal behavior.
Just this year, 13 people were arrested in the UK, including players Michael Boateng, ex-Whitehalk FC footballer, and DJ Campbell of Blackburn, in England’s most prominent match-fixing scandal of the past 50 years. While DJ Campbell was released without charge in August, 3 people were sentenced to jail time for their involvement in the scandal in June. These included Chann Sankaran from Singapore, and Krishna Ganeshan, a UK national originally from Sri Lanka, both receiving jail terms of 5 years for conspiracy to commit bribery. Disgraced player Boateng got handed 16 months for conspiring to offer material benefits to others in exchange for cooperation. Together, this budding match fixing ring aimed to influence various games in order to spot bets and generate large sums of cash from their predicted scores.
Meanwhile, the Football Association (FA) has admitted that even though it has a secret list of individuals suspected of engaging in illegal activity and match-fixing in its possession, it simply cannot stop them from continuing to be involved with the game in England. Some of the suspected players have been present at matches where evidence points to fixing, but while a criminal investigation remains possible, the situation remains at a standstill. As shocking as this self-professed declaration of impotence sounds, officials seem genuinely powerless to suspend or investigate the individuals involved, with the FA’s director of governance and regulation, Darren Bailey, claiming:
“We have limited power, (only) over our participants. We don’t necessarily have all of the investigative powers that other bodies have.”
Before picking up their pitchforks and heading to storm the FA’s headquarters, maybe Britons could take solace knowing that their woes are part of a tidal wave of football corruption sweeping across Europe.
The Greek Tragedy
In Greece too, match-fixing allegations continue to cast a dark shadow over the football industry and disappoint once supportive and loving fans. There, corruption on the football field is a mirror image of corruption in the Greek political sphere and a devastating scandal dubbed the Koriopolis affair has dwarfed anything that has ever happened in the UK. Involving football club presidents, public officials, referees and high profile players, more than 80 suspects in the case are suspected of working in cahoots to fix matches with the use of physical threats and meddling in the referee appointing process.
Anyone interested can now tune in to Olympiakos FC owner and shipping king Evangelos Marinakis’ recorded phone conversations, in which he and several other individuals suspected of creating a criminal organization in football allegedly discuss the fixing of match results. With the criminal investigation proceeding at snails’ pace and given his status of wealth and power in Greece, Marinakis will be a tricky fish to catch. So far, very little in terms of concrete results has been achieved from the criminal investigation into the scandal.
Just like in the UK, the Greek Football Federation has failed to inflict any real pain on club owners and teams, with senior officials in the organisation also accused of wrongdoing. While the case has finally been reopened, it remains to be seen whether the investigation’s outcome will succeed in giving a push to leagues everywhere to clean up their acts and finally take much needed action.
It’s easy to blame the inadequate responses of national football federations to football corruption, one must also consider that match fixing in sport is a global problem that needs a global solution. If only we had an international football organization, with large powers, deep coffers and the mandate to make or break the rules of football.
‘A threat to football’s soul’
Fifa does indeed have the power to put pressure on governments and football federations to take control of match-fixing and betting scandals, and revive the integrity of sports for players and fans alike. However, in order to be truly effective and show dedication to fighting for the cause, Fifa’s executive committee needs to start behaving in a responsible way. Launching an investigation into its own allegations of bribes and corruption would be a promising start that would send a strong signal to its members that change is coming.
What football needs most now isn’t fancy Fifa-grade stadiums but Fifa-grade anti-corruption efforts. There can no longer be any dawdling over shoring up the confidence of its members and eradicating the web of organized crime and corruption in football. It’s high time we turn a new page and close this dark chapter in one of the world’s most popular sports.