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By Tony Attwood
Whenever we publish an article which suggests that maybe, just maybe there is match fixing in England, you can be certain that the abuse will pour in. Some writers will just write and call those of us who are investigating this possibility by every name under the sun. Some will say that our research methods are flawed. We’ve even had a flurry of comments of late which suggest that because we are looking for evidence of match fixing our approach is completely unscientific – as if the physicists who are looking for evidence of certain sub-atomic particles are not doing proper science because they believe in the standard model which predicts these particles, and so they are biased.
What such commentaries never seem to focus on is the fact that match fixing is going on all over Europe. In fact the real debate for people who believe there is no match fixing in England should be: how has England escaped match fixing when it is so rife everywhere else? What is it that makes England special?
In fact we have looked into this ourselves on this site, particularly by investigating the methods and approaches of the PGMOL – the group that runs the professional referee system in England. Our conclusion is that far from making match fixing less likely in England, the way PGMOL is run makes match fixing more likely. You can read many strands of our evidence on the Untold Corruption pages.
So I would like those who believe that there is no chance of corruption in English football to explain to me why they hold that opinion.
But first, let us consider what the rest of Europe thinks.
Last month a study by the European Commission looked at corruption in sport across the 27 states within the EU. The study came up with ten major recommendations to help fight match-fixing in a more efficient way.
The report concluded that a series of loopholes makes it difficult to fight match fixing all the time in all states, and that the lack of any coherent legal system across the EU makes it hard to fight match fixing. it also suggests the EU should be involved in setting up a convention on match-fixing – which the Council of Europe is now involved in.
But the major obstacles in prosecuting cases of match-fixing, the report says, is providing evidence to the prosecution. The report says that spotting that a match may have been fixed is a huge challenge. And it notes that spotting that a specific player or referee has deliberately manipulated a game is even harder.
The report concludes that these problems mean that time and again investigations are abandoned because of the difficulty of gathering evidence. This doesn’t mean that there is not evidence of match fixing, but rather that the penalties for match fixing are generally modest, compared with the cost of gathering the evidence. Thus where a single ref is found to be involved in match fixing he may lose his job – but the cost of gathering the evidence is huge.
Now this is an important point because if PGMOL are protective of their referees and like to deal with anything they think is odd internally, then it is going to be even harder to get the evidence. Costs go up.
Is the PGMOL protective? I can only say that it looks like it, given that since we started our series on referees the PGMOL has closed its website, and will not even respond with a “thanks but no thanks” to our enquiries. Further when Walter, himself a referee, wrote to the associations across Europe asking how they monitor referees and keep the standards up, no one replied. Not even an acknowledgement – save for one association that replied on day one and said, “no”.
The reason for this silence could be that there will be a dreadful fall out if it were ever shown that there is one or more corrupt refs in the Premier League rosta. It would reduce the value of the TV rights, affect PGMOL and its sponsors, and bring down at least one major club for at least a couple of seasons.
According to the Council of Europe report, such difficulties lead to the abandonment of investigations or the dismissal of cases. So the report recommends international cooperation including Europol. It also wants more data on the causes, and the scale of the problem.
And that is what Untold is going to do. We are preparing a report for the Council of Europe. Of course they might not be interested. They, like the AAA, might think that even by raising the issue, we are a bunch of *******. But we’ll see.
There is a copy of the Council of Europe report here. Once the Untold response to the report is written we’ll publish that as well.
All this comes at the moment that Turkey’s top football teams have been cleared of match-fixing by the country’s football federation while at a separate criminal trial 93 football officials, players and coaches are still facing charges. Since the organisation is advising prosecutors this could sway matters – even though 22 league matches in the 2010-2011 season were said to have been targeted by match-fixers, with last year’s league champions Fenerbahce being banned from the European Champions League because of their involvement in the scandal. Turkish international Ibrahim Akin was banned for three years for fixing the result of a game when his team, Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi, lost to Fenerbahce 2-0. Serdar Kulbilge of Ankaragucu was handed a two-year ban for attempting to fix the result of a game that Fenerbahce won 4-2.
But it is in Italy that it looks as if once again prosecutions will go through. Three teams in Serie A, Atalanta, Siena and Novara, are among 22 clubs facing trial this month accused of fixing matches. 52 players are charged, 33 matches are under investigation, and there is more to come.
And this after Juventus were relegated and stripped of two league titles in 2006 following an investigation into referee influencing.
There are now many other allegations covering Serie B, and these include allegations against Sampdoria. Charges refer to a Balkan betting gang (the Gypsies) which allegedly bribed players to fix results or ensure a certain number of goals were scored.
The evidence comes from phone tapping [perhaps we should bring the News of the World back] and confessions. Using evidence already obtained Atalanta has lost six points and Cristiano Doni has been banned for three and a half years. Giuseppe Signori was banned for five years.
In coming weeks more teams are expected to be called to trial – press reports in Italy speak of Lazio, Bari and Genoa being involved. Napoli, defeated by Chelsea in the Champs League this year are also under serious investigation as is Antonio Conte who has just led Juventus to their first Serie A title since they were forcibly relegated in 2006.