Reality of match-fixing and why Africa may never win World Cup

Joseph Sepp Blatter

Joseph Sepp Blatter

ALGERIA is one of the biggest football nations in Africa. Over the years, it has recorded successes and triumphs that will earn it the sobriquet, ‘football giant’. But there is one football moment that still bothers Algerians: The 1982 World Cup. Thirty-three years after that roller-coaster season in football, many football purists still wonder what happened to the team.

On their first appearance at the World Cup, and also, 20th anniversary of their independence, Algeria made an impact that changed the tournament forever.

Drawn alongside West Germany, Austria and Chile in Group B, Algeria, guided by the venerable coaches, Mahieddine Khalef and Rachid Mekhloufi, with Lakhdar Belloumi, Rabah Madjer and Ali Fergani on the pitch, played a flamboyant brand of football that the world found difficult to believe from a debutant, compared with Zaire’s (now Congo Democratic Republic) poor display in the 1974 World Cup in Germany.

They produced one of the most exhilarating performances to defeat one of the favourites, West Germany, but were then sabotaged by one of World Cup’s most blatant cases of match fixing.

Algeria came within one goal of a place in the second round of the World Cup, losing out to West Germany and Austria after a controversial game. The scenario: A West German victory by 1 or 2 goals would result in both teams advancing; any less and Germany was out; any more and Austria was out (and replaced by Algeria, who had just beaten Chile 3-2).

West Germany attacked hard and scored after 10 minutes. Afterwards, the players (from both teams) went to sleep, they just kicked the ball around aimlessly for the remainder of the match. By the second half, the ARD commentator, Eberhard Stanjek, refused any further comment on the game, while the Austrian television commentator, Robert Seeger, advised viewers to switch off their sets. Algerian supporters were so angered that they waved banknotes at the players, while a German fan burned his country’s flag in disgust.

Known in Germany as Nichtangriffspakt von Gijón, literally translated as ‘Non-aggression pact of Gijón’ or Schande von Gijón, that is, ‘Disgrace of Gijón.’ The Guardian of London described the match as ‘one of the worst of footballing crimes.’

A football fan, said, “the memory still rankled. I remember how we waited till night to see Africa’s first chance of progressing to the second round blown up from what we called ‘Accord Match’ way back then.”

As a result of this, and similar events at the previous World Cup in Argentina, when another suspected ‘fixed’ match gave Argentina a 6-0 victory over Peru, eventually, the edge over Brazil. FIFA had to revise the group system for future tournaments, so that the final two games in each group would be played simultaneously.

And so, what’s match fixing?

It refers to manipulation of the final result of a game. Another form of it, known as spot fixing, involves tampering small events within a match, which can be gambled upon, but unlikely to prove decisive in determining the final outcome of a game.

Match fixing occurs as a match is played to a completely or partially pre-determined result, violating the rules of the game and often the law.

The Enemy Within

Many African football followers know that Nigeria, rather than Angola, would have qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany ‘if the Angolans were not vigilant.’

According to sports lawyer, Sabinus Ikewuaku, who describes match-fixing as one of the biggest obstacles to Nigerian football development, “in 2005, the super Eagles had as usual blown their chances of qualifying for the Germany 2006 World Cup, with the players contributing to the failure by failing to honour games and as usual underrating their opponents.

“So, when the Eagles were jolted by Angola, who came to Kano to hold Nigeria to a 1-1 draw, the officials got together and decided that something must be done to ensure Nigeria qualified for Germany. A very prominent former FIFA official was contacted and plans were hatched to ensure that Nigeria overtook Angola on the log.

“But things did not go as planned. First, Angola in their next game promptly beat Gabon 3-0 and needed a win in Kigali to confirm their entry into Germany.

“Nigeria, on the other hand, decided to ‘motivate’ Rwanda to beat Angola and open the door for the Super Eagles, who were expected to defeat Zimbabwe easily in Abuja. The Rwandan players were reportedly promised huge sums of money to beat Angola, but the Palacas Negras, with a superior team, promptly beat the their host by a lone goal to seal their passage to the Coupe du Mundial.”

Ikewuaku also recalls the Super Eagles failure to qualify for the Italia 1990 World Cup ‘owing to the antics of a certain Jean Diramba, the referee, who was always on hand to help Cameroun beat Nigeria in major tournaments.’

According to the Ikewuaku, Nigeria clearly had a better team than Cameroun in 1989 when both teams were placed on the same World Cup qualifying group.

“The Eagles defeated Cameroun 2-0 in Ibadan and would have wrapped up qualification for Italia ’90 in their penultimate game against Gabon if some players did not choose that inauspicious time to demand for extra payment from the football federation.

“That was Clemens Westerhof’s first time of traveling with the Eagles and the Dutchman would not understand why some players would choose the eve of a World Cup qualifier to hold their country to ransom. So, he advised that the NFF to call the two players’ bluff. The result was that we went to Gabon without our first choice goalkeeper and striker. The result was a 1-2 defeat, which meant that we must get a draw in Yaoundé against Cameroun to seal our passage to the final round of the qualifiers.

“In that game, CAF picked Diramba as match referee and the rest is history. To recap the events of that day, Diramba disallowed a good goal scored by Samson Siasia, sent off Sunday Eboigbe and allowed a doggy header scored by Oman Biyik to stand and ensure that the indomitable Lions, rather than Nigeria, qualified for the final round of qualifiers against Tunisia.”

Cameroun went to Italia 1990 to record Africa’s best results in the World Cup up till that moment, getting up to the quarterfinals, but Ikewuaku believes that the Nigerian team would have done far better than a quarterfinal.

He reasons that Africa cannot win the World Cup until CAF ensured that the best team from the continued qualified for the competition.

He also notes that match-fixing has continued to stall the development of football even in the domestic league across the continent.

While most football followers believe that match-fixing is the bane of African football, former Super Eagles’ Coach, Adegboye Onigbinde, who took Nigeria to the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, says it exists for teams that are not fully prepared for a competition.

He opines that if a team that prepared well and also knew its onions, it will not have any business pleading with any team to help it secure points.

The Modekeke high chief submits that the major problem affecting Nigerian, nay African, football can be narrowed down to corruption, lack of planning by the federations and sabotage by some of players.

Onigbinde says he would have won the 2002 World Cup if some of the players did not choose to sabotage his efforts.

“I have heard over the years that there is match fixing in football in Africa, but I have not experienced such.

“In recent times, I believe the best teams have represented Africa in the World Cup. Nigeria, which is yet to get to the quarterfinal of the World Cup, presented one of the best teams in USA 1994, but the team was sabotaged.

“If not for sabotage and politics, I would have also excelled with the Eagles at 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan.

“I have said it over time that Nigeria can win the World Cup if the structures that other advanced countries put in place were reflected in the country. We need a well-tailored developmental programme for players and coaches to get it right. Africa has the talents to compete favorably with the rest of the world. Nigeria can produce great players like Messi and Ronaldo if we took grassroots football development seriously.”

Also supporting Onigbinde’s claim that match-fixing does not exist, former Super Falcons’ coach, Godwin Izilien, explains that match-fixing is used by some lazy coaches to cover their failures.

He also agrees that Africa’s failure at the World Cup is as a result of their failure to plan well.

In the case of Nigeria, he disclosed that Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) was yet to come to terms with the way football is administered in developed countries.

According to Izilien, most serious countries spend money and hire the best coaches in their country to handle a particular national team.

“Germany, Brazil, Argentina and other teams that have lifted the World Cup made sacrifices to achieve such feats. You cannot win the World Cup by selecting players on sentiments and not getting the best hands to handle the team technically. There are foundations that must be put in place to assemble a credible team,” he said.

Also corroborating Onigbinde and Izilien’s position, Super Eagles former coach, Christian Chukwu, wondered why people would be making such allegations when teams like Cameroun, Senegal and Ghana have come close to winning the World Cup on different occasions.

He attributes Africa’s failure at the World Cup to lack of grassroots development, saying that the federations should first focus on improving the domestic league and training quality coaches to groom talents.

“The NFF has not yet realised that our football needs a lot of money and quality preparation to meet global standard. We have to make our league lucrative to attract credible players that our players can learn from in the domestic league.

“Coaches need to be monitored in the area of team selection, just as the NFF send our coaches for training to be abreast with the modern trend in coaching. Nigeria will win the World Cup the day the football body realised success could only be achieved with well calculated goals that can stand the taste of time. ”

Over the years, ‘match fixing’, like termites, has gradually eaten away the foundation of football in the world. The virus has taken its roots on the game, even as authorities are trying to find a suitable remedy to cure the disease.

Match fixing has its roots in the illegal sports betting business, where bettors place huge bets on the results of games. To make sure the outcome of the game favoured them, they pay a certain amount to a sportsman or a team, an amount, which they will find hard to resist, on the condition that they perform poorly or lose the game.

There are situations that motivate fixing of games. One of them is a mutual dislike among team members towards a person of authority in the team. Competing teams may agree to draw a match so that points are shared between them as well as the money, but the most common is in exchange for a payoff from gamblers.

There is a network of people, who place bets on the outcome of a match, and in order to win, they try and acquire the services of certain players, who are willing to throw the match away for money, usually through a middle man known as a bookie.

Having been busted on so many occasions for trying to fix matches, the bookies then came up with a smart way of earning quick bucks through a relatively easier method called ‘spot-fixing’.

In this category, the fixed player has to simply underperform at the stipulated time, thereby helping the bookmakers to earn millions of money. This could go undetected, for its sheer sensibility in its modus operandi.

With the illegal betting market in Asia worth hundreds of millions of pounds, the tentacles of organised crime have reached into football leagues from Australia to Finland.
Gambling on soccer, legal and illegal, amounts to $320 billion yearly, the World Lottery Association estimates.

Majority of the revenues are generated in Asia, where gambling is unregulated. At the top of the organisation are men from Singapore, who are those who move the money, but the shareholders are divided from the West, to the Far East, to South America and they manage with their men how to change the outcome of football matches.

The match-fixing ring stretches from mafia influence in Naples to Singapore, and from bookmakers to criminal enterprises in South America and Hungary. Scandals involving rigged matches have sprouted like mushrooms in Turkey, Finland, South Korea, Germany, El Salvador, Israel, China, Thailand, Zimbabwe and beyond.

FIFPro, the Dutch-based international union for professional soccer players, calls match-fixing “the deadliest disease to hit modern football.”

FIFPro said Eastern European players who frequently go long periods, without being paid, face threats of violence if they do not cooperate in manipulating matches. The organisation said some Eastern European countries, including Croatia and Serbia; teams buy their places in the league standings.

In May 1980, the largest match fixing scandal in the history of Italian football was uncovered by Italian Guardia di Finanza, after the spalling of two Roman shopkeepers, Alvaro Trinca and Massimo Cruciani, who declared that some Italian football players sold the football-matches for money; implicating, among others, AC Milan and Lazio. Teams were suspected of rigging games by selecting favourable referees. Even Italian World Cup team goalkeeper, Enrico Albertosi, and the 1982 FIFA World Cup highest scorer, Paolo Rossi, were banned for betting on football games.

Aligi Pontani, the managing editor for sports at the Italian daily newspaper, La Republica, bluntly identified a number of structural, cultural and managerial issues, as responsible. He noted there was strong, pervasive presence of organised crime in Italian soccer, management consumed by acquiring television money for individual teams and blind to transparency, and the outsize influence of hooligans, known as ultras, who have strong ties to clubs and have been known to blackmail them for free tickets and travel.

The highly successful Italian coach, who was at different times, sweat merchants of England and Russia, Fabio Capello, said in the wake of Scommessopoli, that Italian soccer was held hostage by ultras. Even the prime minister of Italy wondered if the sport should be quarantined for disinfection.

After the 1964 British football organised by Jimmy Gauld and involving several Football League players was uncovered, the Premier League had been free from scandal, however, a scandal erupted not long ago involving three Sheffield Wednesday players, including two England international players, who were subsequently banned from football for life and imprisoned after it was discovered they had bet against their team winning in a match against Ipswich Town.

Former Portsmouth star Sam Sodje and his brother were arrested in connection with the matter. The arrests came after Sodje, 34, was filmed claiming he could arrange for players to pick up yellow cards in exchange for cash. Sodje demanded £30,000 for a booking and £50,000 for a player to get a red card during a match.

He even claimed he punched a player in the groin during a match to be deliberately sent off – and pick up a £70,000 bung, while playing for Portsmouth. The former Reading and Brentford defender also boasted that he could rig Premier League and World Cup games.

He said some African players could be easily tempted because they do not get paid much to represent their national teams.

“A yellow card is a standard thing. No one would even be suspicious.”

Sodje allegedly demanded a Rolex watch and a Range Rover for acting as “fixer” for the dodgy deal.

Many clubs in the lower leagues are semi-professional and players do not earn the astronomical wages associated with the Premier League and Football League. Wages start at around £200 a week and go up to more than £1,000 a week for professional clubs.

But England’s leagues, the authorities assured the paying public, were clean – a prospect, which made the birthplace of football, an even more attractive target for illicit gambling syndicates.

NIGERIA, in 2010, had been implicated in a football match-fixing scandal, with the revelation that the friendly match between the Super Eagles and North Korea on the eve of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was doctored.

The allegation, published by the New York Times, opened a fresh can of worms in a series of claims that Nigeria has featured prominently for years in the dubious art of match rigging. Nigeria won the friendly against the North Korean side by 3-1.

The New York Times said South African officials allowed a notorious Singaporean syndicate, Football 4U, to pick the referee for that match. FIFA investigators found that the referee in the Nigeria-North Korea match made several questionable calls.

One notorious Singaporean gambler cum match fixer, Wilson Raj Pemural, said in a personal memoir that he aided the Super Eagles’ qualification for the 2010 Mundial.

Prior to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Ghana FA was indicted for agreeing to take part in international football matches organised by match fixers.

Christopher Forsythe, a registered Fifa agent, along with Obed Nketiah, a senior figure in the Ghanaian FA, boasted that they could employ corrupt officials who would rig matches played by Ghana.

The president of the country’s football association then met the undercover reporter and investigator, along with Mr. Forsythe and Mr. Nketiah, and agreed a contract, which would see the team play in the rigged matches, in return for payment.
The contract stated that it would cost $170,000 (£100,000) for each match organised by the fixers involving the Ghanaian team, and would allow a bogus investment firm to appoint match officials, in breach of Fifa rules.
Forsythe said that match fixing was “everywhere” in football and that he could even arrange rigged matches between Ghana and British teams. “The referees can change the matches every time. Even in England it does happen,” he said.
Following the meeting in London, the representative of the investment firm asked if his company could be sure their approach would work. Mr. Forsythe replied: “We will always choose associations/countries that we think we can corrupt their officials for all our matches.”

He listed a number of African and European countries, adding, “We can look for match officials, who will sing to our tune.”

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroun was also accused of throwing some games in the 2014 World Cup. Perumal, who was detained by police in Finland, in April, on an international arrest warrant, made the allegations. In the game, Alex Song was sent off for lashing out at Mario Mandzukic, while teammates, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Benjamin Moukandjo, clashed late on in the game.

In a discussion with Der Spiegel, the Perumal correctly forecast the result with Croatia and that a player would be sent off.

In addition to the match fixing that is committed by players, coaches and/or team officials, it is not unheard of to have results manipulated by corrupt referees. Since 2004, separate scandals have erupted in prominent sports leagues in Portugal, Germany (Bundesliga scandal), Brazil (Brazilian football match-fixing scandal) and the United States, all of which concerned referees who fixed matches for gamblers.

Many sports writers have speculated that in leagues with high player salaries, it is far more likely for a referee to become corrupt since their pay in such competitions is usually much less than that of the players.

Nigerien referee, Mr. Ibrahim Chaibou, has had his hands soiled in many matches adjudged to have been fixed, including the South Africa versus Guatemala game, in which South Africa won 5-0. The referee was said to have received $60, 000 for his role.

It was also Chaibou who officiated the Nigeria – Argentina friendly in Abuja, also adjudged to have been fixed, as the Eagles triumphed 4-1.

In June 2004 in South Africa, 33 people (including 19 referees, club officials, a match commissioner and an official of the South African Football Association) were arrested on match-fixing charges.

By January 2005, the German Football Association (DFB) and German prosecutors launched separate probes into charges that referee Robert Hoyzer bet on and fixed several matches that he worked, including a German Cup tie. Hoyzer later admitted to the allegations; it has been reported that he was involved with Croat gambling syndicates.

He also implicated other referees and players in the match-fixing scheme. The first arrests in the Hoyzer investigation were made on January 28 in Berlin, and Hoyzer himself was arrested on February 12 after new evidence apparently emerged to suggest that he had been involved in fixing more matches than he had admitted to. Hoyzer has been banned for life from football by the DFB. On March 10, a second referee, Dominik Marks, was arrested after being implicated in the scheme by Hoyzer.

It was also reported that Hoyzer had told investigators that the gambling ring he was involved with had access to UEFA ‘s referee assignments for international matches and Champions League and UEFA Cup fixtures several days before UEFA publicly announced them. Ultimately, Hoyzer was sentenced to serve 2 years and 5 months in prison.

In September 2005, a Brazilian magazine revealed that two football referees, Edílson Pereira de Carvalho (a member of FIFA’s referee staff) and Paulo José Danelon, had accepted bribes to fix matches. Soon afterwards, sport authorities ordered the replaying of 11 matches in the country’s top competition, the Campeonato Brasileiro that had been worked by Edílson.

Both referees have been banned for life from football and face possible criminal charges. Brazilian supporters have taken to shout “Edílson” at a referee who they consider to have made a bad call against their team, in a reference to the scandal.

Declan Hill’s The Fix reveals that the fixers have approached players at the Olympics, the Under-17, Under-20, women’s and men’s World Cup tournaments. An independent police investigation of the presence of Asian fixers at international tournaments is needed.

To solve the problem, especially in major football competitions like the World Cup and Olympic Games, players at high-level tournaments should be paid directly by Fifa. The gap between what a top player can earn in a domestic league and in an international game is extraordinary. Fixers know this and can exploit it.

Every player should know before getting to the tournament what they will be paid for each game, what their win bonuses will be, and that the money will be paid directly into their accounts without going through the football associations.

Football commentators and analysts harp on the need to educate footballers, using former fixers on how to avoid the dangers of dealing with criminals. They also said that security department in the various leagues should also be equipped to fight crimes.

European football associations also lack some very basic tools. For example, very few of them have a well-resourced security department, which is standard in large companies and in all U.S. sports. In these leagues the unit is specifically charged with protecting and policing the game. Until such organisations are put into place, then the fixing will continue.

At the moment, in the multi-billion pound football industry, there is no equivalent department. It is like a sweet shop with no door. Another tactic is for some police force somewhere to mount real, effective investigation.

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