Red-Flags Around the World

Photo (c) flickr user DRB62 and licensed under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence.


Comment by Declan Hill
China is a text-book case of why you cannot wait to uproot corruption. The Chinese soccer leagues are a national disgrace and an international joke. Do not take my word for it. The top Chinese politican – President Hu Jintao – has declared his embarrassment over the state of their sport. However, the Chinese government has waited far too long to fight it.

The usual official line is that “Corruption is the problem of young players far from home. They lose themselves. They have fast cars, faster women and are surrounded by all the wrong people and thus lose themselves in corruption.” Bullshit. Endemic corruption does not come about because a bunch of young guys like to get laid. I did the statistical research at Oxford to show that younger players are, generally, the least likely to fix matches. The real problems come from the older players, and most importantly the problems come from the very sports officials who are often denouncing corruption. The key to understanding corruption in Asian sports is that many of the top authorities – club owners and league officials – are big gamblers. They view their involvement in sport not as some Olympian dream, but as a way of making money and gambling with and against their rich buddies. If that means telling their athletes to fix matches they will do it.

The problem for the Chinese government is that many of the people connected with their league were corrupt. However, some of the club owners are politically-connected businessmen with a lot of clout. If you are a Chinese policeman you move against those people very, very carefully. The Chinese officials have just arrested top soccer league officials but until they move against the corrupt club-owners they will not have any lasting success at cleaning up the sport.

What is the connection with European sport? Because that is the direction that match-fixing is taking. It is no longer simply criminals on the fringes fixing matches with corrupt players, it is beginning to be deeper than that, some club owners are now reaching out to the fixers to make money on the gambling market by fixing games. It is the essential defence of many of the Belgian players that they were ordered to fix the games because their clubs were “in financial trouble” (read: the owners wanted to make money). Until European football authorities and police start to deal with these politically-connected and rich people the problems will spread no matter what goes on in the Berlin court-room.

This comment was first published on Declan Hill's Blog on 11 October 2010, and is republished on Play the Game's website with kind permission from the author.


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