Don't Bet On Match-Fixing Victory...

As long as there is both football and human weakness, there will be allegations of match-fixing. But a decent start would be an independent, national body...

Last Updated: 10/12/13 at 17:41 Post Comment

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Match-fixing is a little like terrorism; that's my bid for over-the-top intro of the week. This comparison is not in any way a suggestion that the former is anything like the latter in terms of seriousness, but an observation that the effects go well beyond the event itself.

With terrorism, much is made of the increased level of suspicion and fear engendered, whereas with match-fixing this is incidental and indeed counterproductive once revealed: people will be less likely to gamble on an event whose outcome is suspect. Still, they share the corrosive effect of false positives, along with fixing of another kind, through the use of drugs. The recurring doubts about athletics and cycling after high-profile cases are another warning to sports whose integrity is seriously called into question.

There are questions about the current scandal, such as how even in the unregulated Asian markets a single red card or booking could be worth the level of payment being discussed. Ed Hawkins, the author of a William Hill-shortlisted book on sport and gambling goes so far in the Times as to say: "The Sun on Sunday, it would appear, has uncovered corrupt attitudes within the English game. With no bet placed and no opportunity to do so, however, it cannot be called match-fixing." There is rarely the gambling equivalent of a positive test.

And sports do survive the greatest of scandals. God knows how but enough people have kept their faith in boxing, always wanting to believe that their champion was the one who said no. Horse racing, with gambling at its heart, had to contend with sharp practice and worse from the very beginning through to the current steroid scandals.

The problem for all sports - the actions of FIFA notwithstanding - is that their governing bodies are not fully fledged states. They can encourage but they cannot compel evidence, and anyone outside the game is beyond their reach, even if they are in this country. The world of internet gambling makes everything substantially more complicated.

Football's bung inquiries of the 1990s, in which managers were accused of taking cash payments, became possible because an allegation was made in open court: Alan Sugar, giving evidence in his dispute with Terry Venables, quoted the future England manager as saying: "Mr Clough likes a bung." The FA swung into action, as best it could, but without being able to force anyone to testify it was supremely difficult to get any proof. Brian Clough retired and the second he did so any punishment would only be symbolic; George Graham became the only active manager to receive a ban, suspended from the game for a year.

The calls, then, for sports to work together to combat fixing, from Rick Parry and others, does make a deal of sense, just as anti-doping is run by a national, independent body rather than each sport setting up its own laboratories. The sharing of intelligence can assist everyone. But there is no panacea and as long as there is human weakness there will be people in the game who succumb to offers.

Whatever happens in the current case, we will see these headlines again. In five years, 10 years, 20 years...

Philip Cornwall

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