|Soccer scandal: a frightening reminder|
|Written by Zack Fulkerson, Sports Columnist|
|Thursday, 14 February 2013 10:30|
Last week, a European police agency reported that hundreds of professional soccer games may have been rigged by gamblers over the past several years. As the news broke, Europol announced that it suspected at least 680 games had been rigged involving 425 players, referees and other officials in roughly 15 countries. As my jaw dropped, fans internationally gave a nod of confirmation as if this came as no surprise.
Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis said in an interview on NPR's "All Things Considered" that the rigging works as follows: A group of gambling syndicates based in Southeast Asia focus on a match or act as sports agents and actually arrange matches. These are typically in low-income countries where players and officials are not highly paid. Then, gamblers pay bribes to players and officials to set the match by having a ref make a bad call or a player blowing a kick — something like that. After that, the gamblers bet big sums of money on the games already knowing the outcome and collect their cash.
It sounds unbelievable, and it is. Of course, the league responded that it's doing all it can to prevent this sort of thing from happening. They've also made note that most of the matches noted by Europol have already been dealt with. I have no reason to believe that isn't true. In fact, rigging scandals have arisen in recent years in Germany, Italy, South Korea and so on, and so there is plenty of evidence that FIFA has their eye on it.
But really, what this does is take the wind out of my sails. If there is reason to believe that the fix is on in soccer matches, who's to say that the same isn't true of American football? Baseball? Basketball? And so on.
Surely no one could forget the infamous 1919 World Series, immortalized in pop culture such as the film "Eight Men Out" and more recently in an episode of AMC's "Mad Men." In that game, several members of the Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to throw the series. As a result, team owners installed a Commissioner of Baseball — Kenesaw Landis — who banned eight players including superstar Shoeless Joe Jackson from baseball.
Then, of course, there's the 2006 scandal involving the LA Clippers, who allegedly threw several games at the end of the season so that they could get a sixth place seed in the playoffs, rather than fifth place. In this case, the sixth seed can avoid playoff matches with the conference's top seed until the final round of the playoffs, which theoretically gives them a better chance at winning. Not exactly the same thing as blowing games for money, but similar.
The point overall is that this isn't new and it appears that it isn't going away any time soon. So it does a disservice to the game in taking the faith out of the fan. We want to believe that those guys (or girls) are going out there and giving it their all, every single game, and doing it for the love of the game. This is obviously bordering on unrealistic, but is it really too much to ask that they at least play for real instead of letting somebody halfway across the world call the shots to make a profit?
Ultimately, match-fixing is the sort of thing that we like to push to the back of our minds. I for one, will try to remain a believer until I simply can't believe anymore.