A tale of two football associations

Dr. Declan Hill speaking at Play the Game 2009


By Declan Hill
Recognition or denial? Two very different approaches on how to tackle the threat of match fixing in football met journalist and author Declan Hill promoting his book "The Fix" in Belgium and the Netherlands.

October 22nd and 23rd ‘Doorgestoken Kaart’, the Dutch/Flemish version of ‘The Fix’ was released. I was in Amsterdam and then Brussels to do media interviews. The interviews were mostly related to new updates. 

That is the week before I had a long and fascinating interview with a prominent Asian gambling expert in Bangkok. He had told me that there was still fixing going in the Belgian and Dutch leagues. I was surprised. I knew about the Ye Zheyun case, but when I mentioned it to him he looked at me and said, ‘I’m not talking about five years ago, I’m talking about the last couple of weeks.’

He mentioned some clubs in the lower half of the Belgian and Dutch Premier Leagues that he claimed were fixing matches away from home, betting against themselves on the gambling market and then using the money that they won to keep their clubs afloat.

I told this to the Dutch and Belgian journalists who came to interview me. They asked lots of tough, hard questions and then many of them chose to lead their articles with this story and it received a lot of prominence in the media.

However, what happened next is a textbook case of one football association doing everything right and another football association doing everything wrong.

The Dutch Football Association was brilliant. They had already expressed a strong interest in ‘Doorgestoken kaart’. The Chairman Henk Kesler had ordered 18 copies for his staff and told them to read it. Essentially, he was saying, ‘Look we don’t know if Hill is right but we should at least know what he is saying.’ 

Then the Dutch FA heard the latest developments about possible fixing in their league and immediately flew two of their executives over to London to have a meeting with me at a hotel near Heathrow Airport. Nor were the Dutch Football Association the only ones to move quickly, a number of Dutch fans contacted me and then began filming the Chinese gamblers who were monitoring their clubs. In all, a superb response from the Netherlands to difficult news.

The Belgian Football Association’s reaction, however, has been an absolute disaster. Most of their officials have not read the book, which is a mistake because it shows how the industry that is threatening their league is structured. But those officials still choose to criticize it and me in the media for raising the question that there may still be corruption in Belgian football. They have done little except bury their heads further in the sand. If there were an Olympic contest for the laziest sporting executives in the world, surely the Belgian Football Association would be perennial gold medal contenders.

If you were a fixer, which league would you prefer to work in: one that is pro-active and interested in fighting corruption or one that is doing its best to deny that there are any problems? I am not a gambler, but if I were, I would make a strong bet on the Dutch league being in much better shape in five years time and the Belgian game becoming more of a fiasco than it is now.

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