Everything Sucks

Just when I was really getting into this World Cup thing, I see an interview with a guy called Declan Hill . Hill is an investigative journalist and former researcher with CBC’s the fifth estate and has won several awards for his work.

In 2008, Declan Hill published The Fix: Soccer & Organized Crime.

Over four years, he interviewed more than two hundred people, including professional gamblers, Mafia hitmen, undercover cops, top-level international soccer players, referees, and officials. He met men who claim they have bribed their way into fixing the results of some of the biggest matches in the sport. Initially very sceptical, Hill travelled across four continents to corroborate their stories. He found soccer leagues where mobsters have fixed more than eighty per cent of the games.

The book, however, is not just about match fixing in soccer, the world’s most popular sport. Throughout the text, Hill uses examples from other sports – tennis, hockey, even rowing – to show that the credibility of professional sport now lies on a fragile foundation, and it provides enough hints to suspect that all sports above amateur level should look nervously over their shoulder.

Hill’s book has been translated into 14 languages and within 3 weeks of its publication, the Union of European Football Associations set up a special unit comprised of gambling experts and police officers to conduct a thorough investigation. The unit helped German investigators identify some 200 matches that were fixed in Europe and arrested 75 people.

Unfortunately, FIFA (which Declan Hill calls the “Vatican of Soccer”) refuses to conduct an investigation into World Cup match-fixing. He reckons with 40 billion dollars in bets on World Cup events, there’s a lot at stake.

During the last World Cup, Hill befriended the former goalkeeping coach of the team from Ghana and 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.

According to the Globe & Mail, the most dangerous time for match fixing in the World Cup is coming up now that the preliminary eliminations are out of the way. On Hill’s blog this week he suggests a couple of things to be aware of during upcoming matches which might indicate fixed game possibilities:

  1. Games where one team has nothing to play for. Even if they win the teams will not progress to the next stage of the competition.
  2. Teams which have a history of not paying their players properly. It is the phenomenon of relative exploitation which drives fixing. The officials receive lots of money, the players comparatively little.

Check out the blog for further details and information.

Is anyone shocked and/or surprised by this? I kind of am. Probably I was being naive by never even considering that these things could be rigged. D’uh!

When I was watching the Declan Hill interview last night I felt kind of deflated. Is there anything left to enjoy that isn’t rife with corruption?

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24 responses to “Everything Sucks

  1. Just your blog. It is inevitable that as these “sports” become “entertainment products” generating millions if not billions of dollars the shady side of life will infiltrate. At the Dubbin report about Ben Johnson and steroid use he pointed out that when the winner stood to make fortunes and the loser next to nothing the pressure to win could become overwhelming. What do you suppose happens to all the coaches etc. Winners get bigger and better contracts losers are sent packing the pressure to advance is enormous and if you know your team can’t do it why not take a deal on the side to shave points and set up a nice little retirement nest egg. Certainly the bookies don’t mind.
    WHy do you think a Canadian team has been unable to win the Stanley cup for so long. It is because the NHL owners want the cup in the states to try and promote the sport down there. And why do they want that. Because there is the potential of more and bigger paydays than could ever be gained in Canada.
    Anyone watching any pro sport now tht doesn’t understand that the fix is almost always in needs to go spend their time watching professional wrestling the only legitimate sport left. Well maybe roller derby too.

  2. It doesn’t surprise me. It does seem like theatrical entertainment and business.

    Pure competition is probably not as interesting to watch. Even if it were not for direct payoffs, a good game is a tight game. That might take some slacking off while the other puts on an extra burn to still lose. One team winning by far isn’t fun for winner, loser or audience.

  3. I wonder how much is fixed in the US, like our “football” and baseball. Some people claim a lot, others insist it isn’t. Hill should come here and do an expose, too.

    If you’re a gambler, what is the fun of betting on a fixed game? All the chance has been taken out of it. Unless you know which way it was arranged, it’s a sucker’s bet.

  4. I’m not surprised at all. It’s been my opinion for a very, very long time that the NHL fixes, or at least does its damndest to modify the outcome of Stanley Cup playoff games to suit its business objectives.

    Now, in hockey, it’s somewhat harder to fix a game, but you can slant a game in favour of one side or the other through biased reffing.

    I’ve put this to the test: some years ago I entered a betting pool where I bet based not on the records of the teams but on whose winning would be most lucrative for the NHL or raise the NHL profile the most. The effect was to start with a $100 bankroll and come out $1500 to the good.

    When the changed the rules a couple years ago, it became harder to spot the fix, but I had my money on Chicago from the second playoff round this year, although, to be fair, I thought they’d let Montreal be their competition.

  5. Any time money is introduced to sports in any way, there will be sports fixing. Greed trumps sportsmanship every time.

  6. Lebanowski – Ha ha – unfortunately organized crime has infiltrated most cultures by now.

    Dave1949 – Who knew all this crap was going on in the background? Not me. But then I’m not generally a sports fan. So, if everyone is clued into this shit, why the hell would you still watch?

    Pearl – I guess I was the only one not surprised.

    Ken – We sure are.

    Wendy – They’re not gambling in the sense of “gambling”. This is a big money business where a few guys can make a big pile of money off the real gamblers. I think Hill has investigated other sports (as mentioned in the first quote) and found them all equally corrupt. I think his book focuses on soccer because it’s the most popular sport worldwide and probably the biggest money maker for the fixers.

    Squid – I don’t understand why anybody is even interested in watching sports anymore if everything is rigged. Is it like watching like professional wrestling, where you’re only there for the show?

    Dr. Monkey – I should probably have known this and I don’t know why I didn’t – I guess it just never occurred to me. I gotta tell ya, I’m kind of bummed out about all this.

  7. @Dave and Squid,

    If that’s the case, wouldn’t emerging market teams like Phoenix and Carolina be winning in order to spread the acceptance of hockey in non-hockey areas of the U.S.?

  8. I don’t really worry about cheating at the world cup level. At least not by the players. Every player at this level is making more money than I could even imagine making. The referees could probably be bought, but FIFA apparently keeps a tally of their calls and if they make too many bad calls they get bumped from the top tier of refing.

    That’s not to say it never happens, but I doubt it’s as prevalent as the author says.

  9. I thought this guy sounded familiar.

    Hill: I met a couple of MLS players who said that their teammates were working for the gamblers, reporting stuff . . .  [to] private gambling syndicates, guys that are actually trying to make money.

    LE: MLS players told you there are other MLS players working with gamblers?

    Hill: Yup. They wouldn’t be fixing, they would just provide them with information, useful if you try to beat the bookmakers. ‘So and so is going have a strain and don’t worry, this guy will be back from injury sooner,’ and they were on the gambler’s payroll for that.

    Now, I have no earthly clue what he’s getting at here, other than basically saying that he’s been told by MLS players that there are some who, while not directly match-fixing, per se, are still providing injury information to gamblers who are apparently using this to bet on MLS matches.

    Hopefully his book’s a little more researched than that claim, which according to the linked article he’s so far apparently not told anyone else as of yet. And I’m kind of suspicious re: anything that starts off with “Well, so and so told me…”.

  10. Alison:

    No. The big money is in the big cities in the traditional markets. Spreading is a bonus, but if Phoenix wins, nobody’s going to care up here or there.

    The NHL has had issues like that before. Carolina’s cup was a major failure for the league because nobody in the Carolinas cares about hockey, and nobody in the northern US is especially interested in hockey. I believe some NHL folks even admitted that Carolina going to the cup hurt the league.

    Similarly, there’s no motivation to send Toronto to the finals because people pay to see the Leafs even if they put 6 female figure skaters on the ice.

    I’m thinking Buffalo will be due a cup soon because they’ve never won it, they’re in hockey country, and it’s a blue-collar town with the added bonus that it’s a team kind of on the brink and can use the revenue.

  11. Alison – I don’t know what you’re talking about and you’re talking to Dave and Squid anyway so I’m just here to say hello.

    MG – Well, I don’t know. As I understand it though, some players don’t end up getting paid at all or get paid very little in fact. Have you read the book? It would be interesting to have a look at all his evidence.

    James – I gotta tell you, if I hadn’t done a little online follow-up on this guy and seen that he seemed to be pretty well respected, I would also be kind of skeptical. Because he came off as a real pillock on the TV interview, too. But after reading other stuff, I kind of came away with the impression that anyone who doesn’t think professional sports are “fixed” is being naïve. There IS a hell of a lot of money involved and where there’s a lot of money there is, invariably, corruption.

    Squid – Buffalo is still a town? I thought they’d pretty much shut that place up?

  12. thanks for busting my bubble. i think i will chose to continue to watch with my head in the sand, as if i never heard this. yep, i chose ignorance on this one.

  13. Personally, I’d want to see a little more evidence on that one before I started whole heartedly believing it–so far, my google skills only point out articles written by him, and articles pointing to articles/interviews done by him. Sort of one of those situations where the the debate is settled, just because he says it is. Or maybe I’m just too naive for my own good. Whichever.

  14. The Man and I have actually had debates over this. The latest “round” occurred over the Canada U.S. hockey game at the Olympics. It’s just a bit convenient that U.S. and Canada would face off over hockey. (Arguments can be made that it wasn’t fixed, such as it seemed like good hockey. But it’s a bit convenient that Canada won both golds no?)

    My mother says that she figures it’s all fixed. Things like WWF, who make no bones about it, are actually more honest than other leagues.

    Then again, maybe I just don’t like sports.

  15. Smothermother – I’m sorry. Really. I actually debated hotly with myself over whether or not to post this because of that very reason.

    James – Ya, I don’t know. I don’t suppose there would be evidence of fixed professional sports all over the internet. I’m thinking they’re trying to keep this stuff under wraps. But you could be right.

    Lebanowski – If they told everyone, it would kind of defeat the purpose. There’d have to be some value in them telling you, I would think.

    Nat – I wondered about that hockey thing, too. How very convenient it all was. I guess when you really think about it, there is so much at stake for certain people that they would want to make damn sure they get their share of the billions floating around professional sports.

    MM – You, of all people are going to stick your head in the sand? You, the uncoverer of corporate greed and corruption? Why is it so hard to believe that the multi-billion dollar sports industry is playing shady games when you have no trouble believing a million dollar shampoo company plays fast and loose with rules and regulations?? (And ya, if you look at soccer on an international level, it’s the most popular — more people follow and support soccer than any other sport in the world)

  16. I can believe it for some sports (the sports I’m not interested in -like boxing, wrestling, baseball & I can entertain the thought for world cup soccer) But my favourite sports? Even the Olympics perhaps? Nooooo. I will hide under my maple leaf blanket with my Canadian flag and face paint. Cannot deal with the possiblity… 😦

  17. I don’t like to have my naiveté shattered.
    But then, as I watch England get trounced by Germany (again!) and possibly denied an equaliser by a dodgy referee call (again!) one wonders why FIFA insists on not using instant replay? So many obviously bad calls must be sympotmatic of something sinister.

  18. When you look at yesterday’s games (the English goal discounted when it was obviously in) and, in the other game, the Argentinian goal awarded when it was obviously offside, I’m not surprised at all.

    But I still love me my world cup.

  19. MM – Okay. I made it all up. It’s all fine now.

    Violetsky – I think some of those shots must be hard to call. I also think if they’re not going to use the instant replay to make judgments on shot then they shouldn’t have them at all. None of us would have been the wiser that way.

    Julia – All those tuxedo cats are wearing white tuxedos! I love how they all want to be goalies.

    Jazz – All that is only obvious to us who get to watch it over and over and over again in slow motion. When the ball is bulleting by you and you have a split second to make a call, I don’t think it’s all that obvious.