By Tony Attwood
There are two prime ways in which top football matches are fixed.
One is the gambling model where people bribe players or refs to fix a game in a particular way, and bet on the outcome.
The other is a much more complex system and is often known as Calciopoli after the Italian match fixing scandal of 2006. In this referees, assistants, and broadcasting company execs were bribed to influence a series of matches involving certain clubs.
In this scenario the owner of club C might say to pliable refs and others, “do what you can to help us, and also just do what you can to knock back clubs A and M”.
The refs are therefore not under instruction to get a certain score or winner, but simply under instruction to help matters along. If the outcome of a game is clearly going against what their masters wish, they are not expected to try and change it. But edging the 1-1 draw into a 2-1 victory for the “right” side via a very dodgy penalty is what they are after.
The broadcasters are then involved, so that the more dodgy decisions by the refs are not commented upon and/or not shown.
The problem with Calciopoli is that it is insidious. Although an analysis of referee decisions over time gives a clear clue as to what is going on, it is hard to prove (and was only proven by phone tapping in Italy).
However the notion that Calciopolio is embedded in the the Premier League is supported by the secrecy that surrounds PGMO (which keeps discussion of referee decisions at bay), their insistence on restricting the number of refs who can work in the PL, (thus making Calciopoli more effective if it is in operation), the wholly bizarre statistics that are released by PGMO about referee accuracy without any detailed substantiation of their claims (which look wholly risible), the geographic bias that they show in appointing refs, and the utter refusal of all media outlets other than the BBC even to consider that it might be happening and to analyse what is going on.
However the reverse is true with match fixing for gambling purposes which is openly discussed and analysed. Indeed Sportradar has just issued a report to the effect that well over 900 top-flight matches have probably been fixed in the past five years for gambling purposes.
Following from this the Asser Institute in the Netherlands has concluded that the fixing of matches for gambling is much more likely in top-flight matches than second-tier competitions.
The Asser Institute also knocked on the head the old notion that gambling at this level features such issues as the number of cards, the time of the first throw in, the number of corners etc. It is the fixing of the result or the score.
In earlier articles that I’ve written under the “Football Betrayed” headline, I’ve suggested that if we really want to know what is going on, we should always ask “why?” And in this case the question is “why does match fixing for gambling purposes get a modest coverage in the press, while match fixing of the Calciopoli variety never gets mentioned at all?”
Of course one reason could be that gambling match fixing does exist but Calciopoli doesn’t. That is a reasonable point, except for the fact that the evidence that Calciopoli still exists, is there, and needs considering. I can’t prove Calciopoli is here and with us, but I can show that there are reasonable grounds to suggest that it is.
And this is the main point: saying that matches in the Premier League are “influenced” along the lines of Calciopoli is not just a wild accusation. It is an explanation for the fact that PGMO is secretive, that its own statistics can be seen to be ludicrous by anyone armed with a pen, notebook and a video of any top match, that it employs so few refs (thus increasing the effectiveness of any ref who has been bought), that TV often ignores controversial moments in its replays, and, dare I say it, when the Referee Decisions web site ran its year long analysis of referees, it found, as Untold has found, that referee errors are not evenly spread among clubs.
Of course those who for whatever reason are against this argument can dismiss it as a conspiracy theory – for example alongside the view that the US never landed on the moon, but fixed the whole thing in a TV studio.
The difference here of course is that we have a whole range of issues which are odd – and on which we can’t get any answers. The PGMO has, since we started focussing on them, put out a few press releases which the press (notably the Telegraph) has dutifully reprinted, but they tend not to deal with any of the main concerns, but instead focus on issues such as video refereeing.
We can also see why the broadcasters and press might not want to let a discussion on match fixing in the Calciopoli manner start. They invest hugely in the right to do everything from print fixture lists (yes, you cannot print them without paying for them) through to the right to show matches on TV. Backing this up is the advertising by gambling organisations which surrounds most matches.
Indeed only the BBC is exempt from the pressure placed on sports reporters by gambling companies, as it doesn’t take adverts, and the BBC is the only body that has shown an interest in our position.
I’ve always been open in saying that we don’t have the smoking gun to prove that referee doping is going on, but we have raised a lot of questions that really do need answering. And the abject refusal of anyone even to acknowledge them, and of those with money invested in football even to acknowledge the question, tends to make me ever more suspicious.
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