Debrecen goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic watches Liverpool score in a 2009 Champions League match. (Getty)
When most people hear the term "match-fixing," images of entire teams and refereeing crews conspiring to ensure a pre-determined win or loss in high-profile games are the first thing to come to mind. While that is one possibility, the truth of such plots is usually carried out on smaller scales, protected by bureaucrats and might have more impact on hardcore gamblers and the fixers than actual wins and losses on the pitch. So the news of the European Union investigators at Europol announcing that they suspect 680 matches around the world of being "fixed" since 2008 -- without providing any information on the teams or people involved or clarifying whether the information is new or has already been the subject of trials -- can be difficult to parse.
From the AP:
The European Union's police agency said an 18-month review found 380 suspicious matches in Europe and another 300 questionable games outside the continent, mainly in Africa, Asia and South and Central America. It also found evidence that a Singapore-based crime syndicate was involved in some of the match-fixing.
Europol refused to name any suspected matches, players, officials or match-fixers, saying that would compromise ongoing national investigations, so it remained unclear how much of the information divulged Monday was new or had already been revealed in trials across the continent. [...]
Europol said 425 match officials, club officials, players and criminals from at least 15 countries were involved in fixing European soccer games dating back to 2008. [...]
Its probe uncovered (euro) 8 million ($10.9 million) in betting profits and (euro) 2 million ($2.7 million) in bribes to players and officials and has already led to several prosecutions.
According to Europol, two World Cup qualifying matches in Africa plus one in Central America are under suspicion. Two Champions League matches, including one that took place in the U.K. are also being scrutinized. Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet reports that those matches both involved Hungarian side Debrecen in 2009 and that goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic was bribed to ensure that more than 2.5 goals were scored in their group-stage match at Liverpool for betting purposes. Liverpool only managed to score once though, and the match ended 1-0 to inadvertently foil the fixers' efforts with their inability to score against a goalkeeper who was allegedly trying to help them do so. Ekstra Bladet also alleges that the other Champions League match in question was Debrecen's 4-3 group-stage loss to Fiorentina that same year. Fiorentina scored all four of their goals in the first half. Poleksic has already served a two-year ban from UEFA for failing to report the fact that match fixers approached him before the match.
Another example of "match-fixing" (and evidence for why more nuanced terms might be necessary) that isn't included in this investigation was revealed by retired footballer Matt Le Tissier in 2009. He wrote in his autobiography that he bet on the timing of the first throw-in during a 1995 Premier League match between his Southampton side and Wimbledon and then tried to deliberately kick the ball out within the first 30 seconds to cash in. The ball didn't go out until 70 seconds in and Le Tissier broke even on the bet.
The Europol investigation highlighted "widespread involvement of organized crime," specifically from a Singapore-based network, but, again, they didn't name any names. Journalist Declan Hill, who has done tremendous work on the subject of match-fixing, says the puppet master at the top of these syndicates has been identified by European police as Dan Tan. But the Singaporean government has refused to serve international arrest warrants against him. Hill says that until Tan is aggressively pursued, the fight against match-fixing from organizations like FIFA and Interpol will remain a "farce."
UPDATE: Debrecen have confirmed that the Liverpool match was investigated, but dismissed it as old news, as much of Europol's findings could be.
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