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Alleged Fixing Of Games Rocks Soccer World


It's been a bad week for soccer around the world - or football, as they call the sport in the rest of the world. Europol, the European police intelligence agency, revealed that hundreds of matches around the world are now under suspicion for having been fixed. Investigative journalist Declan Hill joins us from the studios of the CBC in Ottawa. He's author of "The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime." Mr. Hill, thanks so much for being with us.

DECLAN HILL: Thank you very much for having me on the program.

SIMON: And what can you tell us about the investigation? Any teams whose names we recognize or names we'd know?

HILL: Yes, of course, but let me take a step back and say that I believe that this is one of the best weeks for world sport in a long time. You said it was a bad one. And that's a quote that's been going around a lot. And my sense is that this actually a good time. International soccer has been affected by corruption for a long time. And finally, what we're seeing at this international press conference with a serious police force is that they're going to start cleaning it up. And so there have been a number of arrests, there have been a number of convictions. And they're saying, look, it goes higher, it goes wider and we really want to crack down on it.

SIMON: Can you explain to us what amounts to a partnership or cycle of fixing works?

HILL: There is a new phenomenon that we've never seen before. In the last 10, 15 years ago, the sports gambling industry has been hit in the same way music and travel has been hit by globalization. So, suddenly, the Internet and international television rights have just whacked this market in a massive way. So, it's now you can place a bet on almost any professional sports game in the world. And so there's a bunch of Asian match fixes who operate almost like brokers. They travel around the world, they meet up with the local criminals and they say to the local criminals, OK, you fix the players or the referees or the athletes or the coaches or the team owners; we will fix the gambling markets. And they're over in Singapore or Bangkok or wherever. They say, right, we've got - game X has been fixed. We want to place 50,000 bucks on the Asian illegal gambling market. And those guys will place that 50,000 bucks and then they'll add some more to it. So, you have this odd globalized network of corruption and criminality literally stretching around the world to fix sports events anywhere in the world.

SIMON: How do you fix a soccer game?

HILL: If you can get a team owner then you've got almost a guaranteed fix, because what happens in many countries in many leagues is that team owners can say, hey, I can make as much money, if not more money, losing games, ordering my team to lose games, than I can in getting them to win games. So, they'll just walk into a dressing room and say, hey, guys, we're going to lose this game today. If you don't lose, don't expect to play for me again. There are many times when you'll actually get just a group of players on the team fixing. And that's actually not a bad way. Because you get four or five of the guys trying to fix the game and then you've got five or six other guys who are playing honestly. But the guys that are fixing, of course, are pretending that they're trying honestly as well. So, it's very difficult for an outsider to see what's going on, 'cause all they're seeing is a bunch of people that look as if they're trying hard - some of those guys are actually trying hard; some of them are making honest mistakes; some of them are making dishonest mistakes. But it becomes very, very difficult to see what's actually going on there. So, that's a great way, so long as you have four or five other players in on the fix.

SIMON: Mr. Hill, as you're watching a soccer game, can you tell if it's been fixed?

HILL: Absolutely not. It's a very difficult thing to find out. And I say this because there have been a number of court proceedings trying to determine whether fixed matches have occurred. And often they'll bring in these experts, be they coaches or, you know, former players or somebody, and literally you will have circumstances in court proceedings where one expert will say, well, it was obviously fixed because they were doing this, and then the second one will say, well, no, it wasn't fixed because they were doing that.

SIMON: Is there any way, is there any obvious solution or at least two or three steps that international sporting federations...

HILL: There's an extremely obvious solution to be done. There is one match fixer. There is hundreds of pages of evidence. They're his former associates. The man is living in Singapore. We have to arrest him. And the Singapore government has, up until this moment, refused to honor international arrest warrants served on them months ago by Interpol. We just have to arrest that man. We'll have a few more scandals because he will reveal some, I presume, of his corrupt network stretching around the world. But we'll arrest those guys, we'll put them on trial and we'll be able to protect a beautiful game. I'm saying this is like a bank robbery. We know who's doing the bank robberies. It's no use educating the bank tellers. Just go arrest the bank robber.

SIMON: Declan Hill. He's author of the book "The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime." Thanks so much for being with us.

HILL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.