Since the 1999-2000 cricket match-fixing scandal broke out, the spectre of match-fixing has predominantly been associated with cricket. Not any more. An 18-month investigation by Europol has found that over 380 matches in Europe and a further 300 matches in Africa, Asia and South and Central America were likely rigged over the last four years or so. Match fixing has made the news in football before, such as the Juventus case of 2006, but these cases have so far been isolated. What has shaken the footballing world this time is not only the scale of the rot, but also its reach into the upper echelons of the sport. At a news conference in The Hague, Europol claimed that ‘corrupt’ matches included those in the Champions League (the premier inter-league tournament in the world), the European Championship and, most disturbingly, even the World Cup. According to Europol, a crime syndicate based in Singapore was behind it all. In Germany-based matches alone, criminals bet 13.8 million pounds on rigged matches and made 6.9 million pounds in profits, and this is considered just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.
Another highly disturbing facet of the fixing in football is that many of the culprits were referees, who, unlike players, have the ability to change the whole outcome of a match. Cricket has sought to reduce the scope of this risk by introducing decision-referrals, but in football, the on-field referee is the be-all and end-all of any decision. Further, FIFA, the custodian of football’s rules, has long resisted the use of technology, like line cameras, that take some decisions out of the referee’s hands. The ‘beautiful game’ has been struck a particularly dirty blow. Apart from rooting out the tainted players and referees, it is now time for FIFA to relent and adopt technologies that can reduce the scope of fixing.