PtG Article 08.06.2009

Match fixing: coming to a stadium near you

The rumours are no longer rumours. They are facts. This was the message delivered by Declan Hill, one of the world’s leading experts on soccer match fixing. Speaking on the first day of the Play the Game conference, Hill gave a detailed account of his experiences investigating bribery and corruption in soccer over the past ten years.

He first became interested in the topic in 1999, he said, when a Russian mafia boss revealed to him that he had sat in the presidents’ box - close to FIFA boss João Havalange at the 1994 World Cup Final. Since that time, Hill has concentrated much of his energies on what he described as the “two greatest scandals in sport today” - match fixing itself, and the apparent unwillingness of football’s governing bodies to confront the problem.

In the course of his investigations, he said, he has compared statistics relating to fixed matches with a control group of honestly played games, and noted distinct patterns. Twice as many penalties are awarded in corrupt games, for example, and the timing of the penalty awards differs.

Hill has also spoken to many match fixers first hand, including confidants based in the USA, Europe and Asia. His presentation included taped transcripts from two Italian Serie B games, one of which involved a bribed team scoring a goal in error. The erroneous goal led to an irate phone call from one manager to his opposite number, who admitted that the goal had been “a mistake”.

Sex, bribes and referees

Hill also spoke of a culture of sexual bribery that exists in European football, aimed especially at referees. It is normal, he said, for top European referees to be solicited by women in their hotels.  One top Welsh referee said that he was offered a high class prostitutes on twelve occasions before major European games. Sexual bribery – sometimes involving a woman subsequently claiming she is pregnant – is routinely attempted, Hill said. There have also been documented cases of prostitutes inviting players to their room, where match fixers then confront the players.

Hill quoted Kwesi Nyantakyi, the President of the Ghanaian FA, who has stated that match fixing attempts are commonplace at all tournaments including the World Cup and - not least – FIFA youth tournaments. Hill also referred to other documented attempts to fix matches at the Women’s World Cup and the African Nations' Cup.

Lower leagues targeted

Match fixing has already resulted in the dissolution of three of Asia’s domestic leagues, Hill pointed out, and Asian match fixers are looking outside traditional markets as their home leagues are reorganised. With incidents of match fixing documented across continental Europe, he asked, how likely is it that fixers are not operating in Britain too?

The illegal Asian sports gambling market is worth tens of billions of pounds, Hill pointed out, more than the European and US industry combined, and dwarfing the legal market. While match fixing was unlikely to occur in the English Premier League, he said, lower leagues, where players are paid less, are more vulnerable. Irregular betting patterns on lower-tier British matches are being detected around every six weeks, he added.

Almost as scandalous as the match fixing itself has been the reaction of FIFA and other governing bodies, Hill continued. While match fixers have been proved to be present at every major international tournament over the past 17 years, FIFA’s official position is that they have “never succeeded”.

Whatever the official position, he concluded, match fixing is a reality. Society is becoming more permissive towards gambling, as evidenced by the popularity of professional poker and the growth in casinos. And gambling’s increasing acceptance could provide a boost to illegal fixers.

However, Hill added, a number of steps can be taken to prevent a culture of match fixing taking root in the UK. These include establishing an effective security department at the FA, and the hiring of more female referees who are less susceptible to sexual blackmail. He also called for effective investigations into already-proven cases and the establishment of a free anti corruption hotline at the FA.

He added that players should be educated at an early age about the real dangers of corruption. “If they do it once, they become a slave to the match fixers” he warned. “There is no going back”

Declan Hill is the author of “The Fix”. Further information can be found at and