Soccer-Match-fixers using sponsorship to infiltrate clubs

By Brian Homewood ZURICH, June 29 (Reuters) - The threat posed by match-fixers to soccer is as strong as ever with criminals now using club sponsorship as a way of increasing their influence, FIFA's head of security Ralf Mutschke told Reuters in an interview. Mutschke said he was sad at Interpol's decision to end a "unique collaboration" with world soccer's governing body, although it had not broken his resolve to protect the sport. "The fixers are not suspending their programme against football, therefore we cannot wait for Interpol to come back. We cannot wait to fight match-fixing," Mutschke said in a rare interview. "We are seeing these groups who use the sponsoring approach to infiltrate clubs in football. We get a lot of information from different regions of the world of suspicious people offering money to get into the clubs." Mutschke said the threat posed by organised crime to sports in general and to football in particular had probably increased. "Football is constantly attacked by organised crime and this is certainly a serious and global threat." Match-fixing is usually instigated by criminal gangs who bribe players or referees to manipulate a game and make thousands or millions of dollars by betting on the outcome. Dozens of players have been banned around the world over the last few years, but criminal convictions for those who set up the fixes have been rare. Under an agreement signed four years ago, FIFA had been working with Interpol to train officials around the world. However, Interpol called off the agreement earlier this month following the corruption scandal which rocked FIFA's executive. TRAININNG PROGRAMMES "They were a major partner for us because they organised those training programmes," said Mutschke. "This was a unique, global anti-match fixing prevention programme where we got incredibly positive feedback and therefore we are really sad that Interpol suspended the co-operation unilaterally." Although Interpol blamed "current context surrounding FIFA" for its decision, Mutschke said he believed other factors were at play. "For me, this co-operation has nothing to do with the investigations ongoing now in Switzerland and in the U.S.," he said. A U.S. probe led to the criminal indictment on May 27 of nine current and former FIFA officials and five executives in sports marketing and broadcasting on bribery, money laundering and wire fraud charges. Meanwhile, Swiss authorities are investigating the decision by FIFA's executive committee to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. Like the rest of FIFA's roughly 400 employees, Mutschke is trying to concentrate on doing his job without being affected by the crisis in FIFA's executive committee. Formerly a senior manager at the German Federal criminal police office (BKA), Mutschke has spent the last three years helping national football federations (FAs) set up their own training programmes to combat the threat. The FAs nominate a person, an SPOC (Single Point of Contact), to liase with FIFA and deal with match manipulation issues. "We provide them training and material, (show them) how they should fight match manipulation and they should set up their own national integrity programme to safeguard the game," said Mutschke. "In the future, once they are all trained, we will have a global network of managers... and this will be a key for the success." Interpol provided some of that training, but Mutschke said his department would carry on without them. "FIFA will continue with its programme. My team are all former police officers. We know how law-enforcement acts. We went through three very good years with Interpol involved in all the training, so we will continue it and we will look for new partners." TOUGH TASK But the task remains as difficult as ever. "We have seen more groups getting involved from organised crime and they are diversifying their business and, as you know, there is no deterrent for them," said Mutschke. While law enforcement in countries such as Italy had been clamping down, that was not the case elsewhere, he added. "We have poor laws, police do not have enough resources and the police have different priorities. There is not a reporting system within the police on match-fixing... we are far away from having a perfect world within law enforcement." "Another issue that is harming the cooperation is information exchange; I can give everything to the police but I cannot get something back." In the meantime, Mutschke says FIFA has redoubled its efforts to protect its own competitions. "We have established a very comprehensive approach (involving) a threat assessment involving the FIFA security officers, having an integrity manager in the stadium and approaching teams and referees before the competition. We have hotlines for athletes and we certainly do the live monitoring of the betting. "We can immediately react on any kind of allegation." (Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; editing by Clare Lovell)