A Canadian expert on soccer and organized crime says there’s a “relatively high” chance that some matches at the 2010 FIFA World Cup have been fixed.
Declan Hill, author of The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime (McClelland & Stewart, 2008), told the Georgia Straight by phone that his sources in the Asian gambling market have informed him that organized criminals have gone to South Africa for the tournament.
“They are trying to figure out how to approach the teams and what they’re going to do to get to the teams,” he said. “I know that, absolutely.”
Hill, a former researcher with CBC’s fifth estate program, obtained a doctorate from the University of Oxford for studying how matches are fixed in professional soccer. He noted that he’s not a sports journalist, so he didn’t have to worry about offending sports officials who control access to players.
“Ironically, that was a great advantage to me because it meant that a whole bunch of players and sports officials and referees were desperate to talk about this,” Hill said. “They came forward and spoke to me. In the end, I had over 220 interviews and I had a lot of statistical stuff.”
The book, which has been translated into 14 languages, caused a sensation in Europe when it came out in September 2008. Within three weeks, the Union of European Football Associations set up a special integrity unit with gambling experts and former police officers. Hill said he was contacted by the head of the organization, which flew him to Switzerland to provide advice on how the unit should operate.
“As an author, you can’t ask for more than that,” he stated. “It’s an extraordinary compliment to be given.”
Hill said the integrity unit assisted German investigators in identifying 200 matches that were fixed in Europe. Hill added that more than 75 people have been arrested.
He contrasted this approach with that of FIFA, which is staging the World Cup. Hill claimed that it’s like the “Vatican of soccer”, and it’s not doing anything effective to grapple with the problem of gamblers fixing matches.
“What they’ve done is set up a private company to monitor the gambling companies,” he said. “I don’t know why you would set up a private company to do this.”
Hill estimated that about $40 billion is wagered on the World Cup, which makes it extremely difficult to detect unusual betting patterns. In his book, he describes an undercover operation in which he befriended the former goalkeeping coach of the team from Ghana in the last World Cup. He said he was wearing a wire to tape conversations, and he was given the results of an upcoming match in advance.
“They said the game against Brazil was going to be three goals and above two days before the game actually happened,” Hill said, adding that he believes that game was fixed. The goalkeeping coach was later fired after being caught fixing games.
Hill pointed out that players from Trinidad and Tobago have complained about not being paid bonuses for the last World Cup. Earlier this year, players from Honduras claimed that they weren’t paid for getting through the qualifying rounds. “There will be players in this World Cup in 2010 who don’t know how much they will get paid or even if they’ll get paid for playing in the World Cup,” Hill maintained.