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Cracking Down On International Soccer Match-Fixing

Taiu Kunimoto |
September 30, 2013 | 10:16 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

A billion dollar match-fixing market has posed serious threat to the integrity of soccer. (WikiCommons)
A billion dollar match-fixing market has posed serious threat to the integrity of soccer. (WikiCommons)
Singaporean police arrested 14 people, including one alleged leader, last Wednesday. Their suspected crime: Participating in an organized crime group involved with global match-fixing scandals.

The mastermind behind the scheme is Dan Tan, formally referred to as Tan Seet Eng by the Interpol or “The Boss” among his accomplices. He had been targeted by the Singaporean police and Interpol since 2011 on suspicion of involvement in match-fixing. Although the suspect is in custody, the day of sentencing seems far away.

Because there is no extradition treaty between Singapore and the countries where he is most wanted, Tan will most likely be held indefinitely by the Singaporean police until enough evidence is gathered to prosecute him in an open court.

The crime group that consisted of 12 men and two women were suspected to be in charge of mass-scale manipulations of match officials and referees to alter the results of soccer games. Some of these games included World Cup qualifiers and UEFA Champions League matches.

The global investigative process that involved both the Interpol and EU law enforcement agency has been the biggest investigation into match-fixing in European history. CNN reported that a total of 380 games in Europe- with 425 match and club officials from 15 different countries- may be involved in the scheme.

Why Did It Take So Long To Capture?

Although numerous European countries raised suspicion on Tan’s match-fixing activities, especially Italy with their lower division matches two years ago, they couldn’t do anything because the crime was conducted in Singaporean territory.

Italian police could arrest and penalize domestic players and officials involved immediately, but with no extradition treaty in place between Singapore and Italy, Singaporean police cannot turn Tan over to Italian police even after his capture.

In addition, Singaporean authorities were accused for acting very slowly in the manhunt process despite the heavy demand from both the Europol and the Interpol earlier this year.

Yet, in spite of their complaints, European police were not sharing information internationally during the course of investigation, which left Singaporean police with very little evidence to conduct persecutions.

Lack of cooperation from both sides ultimately has resulted in a painstakingly slow persecution operation conducted across borders.

How Does Match-Fixing Work?

With the establishment of sports gambling markets due to the proliferation of online gambling sites, fixing and corruption has been one of the major problems in the world of soccer for the past decade. Gamblers across the world can place bet on any professional sports event in any part of the world, and soccer industry has been the biggest victim.

The members of the organized crime group are sent to target corrupt players and officials in small leagues all over the world. Officials such as the referees were then told to alter the result of the matches while the accomplices betted on the online gambling site in Asia, where the restrictions on bets are much looser than those in Europe.

Some Chinese players had to bribe their way into representing the country. (Creative Commons).
Some Chinese players had to bribe their way into representing the country. (Creative Commons).

How Serious Is It?

Asia's gambling market is the biggest in the world, where huge amount of money is placed on betting tables online for small matches. With little-to-no preventative measures taken, the billion-dollar market is expanding every year. As an example, Europol reported that the biggest amount ever gambled on a single match was recorded at $194 million.

The criminal network has swept through Asia, Latin America, and Africa, and it is now looking to conquer the games in Europe. Since the bets are placed on small-scale matches from multiple foreign countries, it has been difficult for authorities to uncover the crime and collectivelt act upon it.

The seriousness of corruption is especially apparent in China. This year, 33 Chinese players and officials from the Chinese Soccer League (CSL) were banned for life after being accused for match-fixing. Twenty-five people were given five-year bans, while 12 clubs were given financial or points-based penalties.

The corruption has even gotten to point where players reportedly have to pay bribes to represent the national team.

What about in The United States?

Fortunately, the soccer industry in U.S. has yet to be infected by the “global pandemic”.

“Match-fixing is a concern in the United States but much more so in other nations,” explained Alan Abrahamson, faculty associate of USC’s Annenberg Institute of Sports Media Studies.

Nonetheless, America’s relative immunity to match-fixing does not mean it is completely free of problems. Abrahamson speculates that manipulation of games may be prevalent in other sports. “That’s because soccer is the sports headliner in other nation,” he continued on the international match-fixing. “America is bigger on the ‘other’ football, and you can bet legally in Las Vegas on the NFL.”

How To Prevent It From Happening?

FIFA and Interpol launched e-learning to raise people's awareness on the danger of match-fixing. (FIFA.com)
FIFA and Interpol launched e-learning to raise people's awareness on the danger of match-fixing. (FIFA.com)
“A lot of these questions have to be put to law enforcement,” Abrahamson says. Indeed, stricter restrictions must be placed globally on both online gambling and match-fixing. The first step, just like solving every other social issue, has to be raising awareness.

FIFA and Interpol launched series of e-learning tools—interactive online programs aimed to educate players, coaches and referees on the dangers of being involved in match manipulation—last Thursday. The programs are available in five languages (Arabic, English, French, Spanish and German), and are able to be downloaded on both FIFA and Interpol's website.

“With the launch of our comprehensive e-learning modules, the football community now has a tool to help protect the sport against threats posed by organized criminal networks,” said Michaela Ragg, assistant director of Interpol’s Integrity in Sport unit in the company's media release.

“We hope the e-learning programs will equip them (coaches, players and referees) with the knowledge and ability to resist these approaches and protect the integrity of the sport,” she concluded.

Having signed a 10-year initiative in 2011, FIFA and Interpol are determined to tackle the match-fixing crime organizations together. 

Since the formation of the joint-force procedure, more crime groups are now being exposed and punished. Nevertheless, there are still numerous organizations lurking in the shadow yet to be cracked down. FIFA and Interpol still have a long way to go.

Reach Staff Writer Taiu Kunimoto here or follow him here.



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