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By Tony Attwood
Next month Fifa starts up a telephone hotline for players and officials who come forward with evidence of match fixing. Everyone who does come forward will be guaranteed immunity.
Now before we get too excited by this we must remember this is Fifa we are talking about, but there’s one little chink of light that has emerged from the inevitable razzmatazz that all announcements from Fifa bring.
The Fifa chief of security is Chris Eaton, who recently said that no where in football is immune from match fixing… and he said even the Premier League could be exposed to it.
Mr Eaton worked previously for Interpol and in an interview with CNN he said, “No league, not even the Champions League or English Premier League, is immune to the problem and that corruption affects every level of the game. But it is not something Fifa alone can solve and governments across the world need to work together to fight back.
“We are very concerned about the safety of players and officials. There is anecdotal evidence that some players have been killed. We have evidence of players in South Korea committing suicide because of the shame of match-fixing. There are players who pay the ultimate price for resisting or for the shame of match-fixing.
“We certainly have information in some parts of the world of threats to players and most have indicated they are under some form of threat. Often these players are under the control of a senior player, or captain, or technical coach, and these are the people we need to support.”
I suppose that any awareness in Fifa that games are fixed is helpful, but I fear that Mr Eaton’s investigations could possibly do more harm than good.
The focus on match fixing by official bodies has always been to do with people outside football – the gamblers – affecting results for their immediate benefit.
But the biggest match fixing saga of all was not (and since there is some evidence that it is still going on, is not) like that at all. It is not gambling match fixing but match fixing from within so that individual clubs can win more trophies.
At the heart of the Italian saga where the story evolved, were people like Luciano Moggi the Juve boss who had conversations with officials in Italian football to influence which referee got which game. The system (“Calciopoli” as it was called – Bribesville as it is translated in some quarters) did not mean that matches were fixed to produce a set score, knowledge of which could be used in gambling, but rather that favours were given by a variety of clubs to certain refs over time, and these refs edged games in favour of the clubs using the system. Juve, Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio, Reggina were all ultimately found guilty.
The system was hard to track down simply because it had little to do with gambling. The key approach to stopping match fixing in most of Europe involves waiting for the bookies to cry out that there have been “unusual betting patterns”, and then the investigation follows. Here there is no such activity, and because there is no other system to track down an English Bribesville, nothing happens.
To see if this is happening here we have been running three sets of stories
1: The pre-match analysis by Dogface to see if there is bias in referees which can be shown by their earlier matches, and therefore predicted. The answer is yes there is, and yes the prediction can be made.
2: An analysis of the referees’ performances match after match in the Premier League counting the number of errors made, and looking to see if the old “it all balances out in the end” story is true, or if there is systematic bias across games. The answer is clearly that it doesn’t all balance out, and there is consistent and clear bias.
3: An analysis of the activities of PGMOL, the organisation that runs the referees’ services for the Premier League. What this shows is that they are taking decisions which range from the odd to the downright bizarre without explanation or clarity of purpose.
Put all three together and you can see something is not right.
My view, for what it is worth, is that all three analyses can only be explained if we look for a background set of forces influencing what is happening, and in this regard what happened in Italy is the most obvious model.
I postulate that there are at least three Premier League clubs whose officials are in collusion with some individual referees, and who have influence over the way referees are selected and marked.
Each of these clubs is offering “Calciopoli” rewards to refs in return for helping their clubs win games. Plus (and this is the clever bit) they are also offering bribes to sway the results against their top rivals.
So Club A – a big time club with a long history of success – bribes a number of referees to sway matches in its favour when the club plays smaller teams near the bottom of the league.
But Club A also bribes referees to sway matches against some of its top rivals – other clubs who might also expect to be in the top four in the League but who are not involved in bribery.
Thus for example a club like Arsenal with no involvement in the Calciopoli activities might find decisions going against it in matches against minor teams like for example Fulham. Fulham didn’t bribe the ref. Obviously Asrenal didn’t bribe the ref. But it is possible that another top team is saying, “when you come to Arsenal games, just make sure they don’t win”.
That is already getting to be a complicated scenario – but imagine now it is replicated by at least three teams talking in this way to referees. Then you see how complex it gets.
Clearly the notion of whistle blowers and immunity as proposed by Fifa is good – but I have a doubt here. The activities of the referees’ association in having so few referees and in having virtually none from the south of England, and of allowing a far lower level of accuracy to prevail than happens in other countries, all makes the current situation suspicious.
And yet the referees association will not allow any open discussion on their activities. Indeed as we know from a recent report by Walter, rather than opening up to more discussion they have refused our request for information and ultimately taken their own web site down.
It would be nice if Chris Eaton came out and said he was looking at the irregular refereeing performances in the Premier League rather than just irregular betting panels. But until he does, I don’t think we have too much hope of anything being uncovered.
Worse, if he says he can find “no evidence” of referee bias when in fact he has not been looking for it, then we are in a worse place than when we started.
Stories from our earlier enquiries
The referee match fixing saga: the 2010/11 season summarised