PtG Article 29.10.2013

Target fixers ahead of players, investigator says

Match-fixing is the "most serious threat to sport as we know it today," former Interpol match-fixing investigator Chris Eaton told the Play the Game conference.

While doping threatens the integrity of sport, he said, match-fixing threatens sport itself. Currently the Director for Sport Integrity at the International Center for Sports Security (ICSS), Eaton previously played a prominent role in INTERPOL’s liaison with FIFA during the 2010 World Cup.

While the current debate places a strong emphasis on corrupt players and officials, Eaton said, they are of lesser importance than the fixers themselves. Criminals are applying the same tactics to the sporting world as they apply to other human activities, he pointed out, and the lack of regulation in global sports betting only increases the opportunities for criminal gangs.

A perfect storm

A market-driven “perfect storm,” is approaching, he warned,  driven by unregulated sports betting and organised crime, with governments as “mostly spectators”.

While it was “horrifying to see the drop in interest” in the Tour de France caused by doping scandals, he said, such disillusionment is highly likely to spread to other sports if match fixing is not curtailed.

Drago Kos, a former Slovenian professional soccer goalkeeper and referee who is due to head a new OECD anti-bribery working group in his home country asked why so many East European players are tempted to fix matches.

Among other reasons, he pointed to a culture of loyalty and the disparity in  wages paid by EU and non-EU clubs. Kos cited the case of a Slovenian player who was forced to retire aged 24 after exposing match-fixing.

Following his revelations, he was sacked by his club and was subsequently unable to secure a new contract elsewhere. During his time as a referee, Kos said, he acquired evidence of match-fixing.  However, his attempts to report the problem were unsuccessful. A call to a UEFA help line was met with a request that he reports the incident to the local police, who in turn suggested he contacted UEFA.

While the situation has improved today, he said, systems to encourage whistleblowing still do not fully acknowledge what a player has to lose. Temptation will always exist, he said, while players receive minimal wages or do not get paid at all.“We cannot rely on self-regulation by football clubs in Eastern Europe” he said. “They are not interested, and neither are the states”.