Kick Corruption Out of Soccer

Champ Warren ’16

Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. It is played everywhere from villages in Cameroon to the streets of Brazil to the state-of-the-art indoor fields in the US and Britain. Soccer can be a path out of poverty, a future career, or even just a fun hobby, but for many it is so much more. Even though the point of playing soccer is supposed to be out of love for the game, the sport is increasingly getting caught up in corruption, changing the game from a sport enjoyed by millions to a tool for shady millionaires to make a quick buck.

Corruption in sport has been common for years. Logically if one looks at it as devil’s advocate, the process actually makes a lot of sense: find a team that is struggling financially or some dissatisfied player, offer them money to lose, bet against them, and make millions. For the most part, games that are expected to be one sided, such as a top team versus a team towards the bottom of the table, are prime targets because to everyone else the likely winner is apparent. The mastermind behind the scheme can then get favorable betting odds, increasing the amount of potential profit earned for the least amount of bribe money.

So how common is this type of corruption in present day soccer? Unfortunately, match fixing is becoming more and more common with countless examples to pick from. One such example would be the rampant match fixing in Italy, where various officials, coaches, club staff, and players were bribed to manipulate the outcomes of Italian second and third division matches along with Coppa Italia matches. Such high profile individuals such as Antonio Conte, the current coach of the Italian national team, Stefano Mauri, the now former captain of Lazio, a top Italian club, and former Italian international players Cristiano Doni and Giuseppe Signori. The accused were banned anywhere from four months to five years from all soccer related activities and brought international embarrassment upon their respective clubs.

Another notable incident was one that occurred in a subdivision of the Indian first division in the region known as Goa. Two of the top clubs in their league were competing for the top spot in the league, which would guarantee that club of a promotion to the higher division. One club, Curtorim Gymkhana, was level on points with their rival club,Wilfred Leisure, and appeared on track to win first place in the league on its final day. Although they were on level points with Wilfred Leisure, their goal difference (the ratio of goals scored to goals conceded) was inferior and therefore put them in second place, needing to win by seven goals in order to secure first place. They were not about to go down having come so far, so they chose to bribe their opposition into losing by enough goals to put them in first. After news spread of a possible miscalculation of the points needed, the final score was 61-1. The plot was eventually discovered, and the teams were banned for a year and handed fines of a jaw dropping 60 dollars US.

Corruption is not exclusive to those who play soccer. FIFA, the governing body of soccer, has almost become synonymous with corruption of various sorts. As David Zirkin of the Sunday Review put it, “FIFA’s corruption has been such an open secret for so many years that when new reports emerge, they tend to provoke more eye-rolls than outrage.” The most recent news of FIFA corruption has been the awarding the honor of hosting the World Cup to Qatar, the minuscule country in the Middle East that 90% of the world has never even heard of whose population is less than 2 million people. The simple reason for Qatar receiving the honor is money. Qatar is per capita either the second richest or richest country in the world depending on what statistic you choose and are huge exporters of oil products. Lots of this revenue is invested

into foreign entities, such as “Qatar Airlines,” the first commercial for-profit company to be advertised on an F.C. Barcelona shirt. The World Cup was awarded to Qatar for reasons unclear to the general public. A recent UK based study focused on understanding why Britain did not get to host the tournament uncovered records that two members were bribed into voting for Qatar. Both the men accused and the country of Qatar have repeatedly denied the accusations, and the matter is being investigated.

Cases like these are disappointing to hear about as a soccer fan because they tarnish the sport’s reputation. In a country where soccer has yet to fully take off, news stories like these only breed resentment towards the game. What motivation would a potential soccer fan have for watching the sport if they knew that any game could easily be fixed? At the rate the sport is growing, money and bribery are threatening to take over the sport and something needs to be done to stop it.

In my opinion, the only realistic way to stop match fixing, or at least to curb it, would be to ban soccer betting, clearly explain the consequences of bribery to employees and owners of clubs, and raising the salaries of club employees and match officials. Soccer betting is the usual motivation for match fixing, so if betting on game results is taken out of the question, it will drastically limit the number of bribery cases and the amount of potential profit that the people behind the operation could make.

Secondly, many people specifically in poorer countries do not understand the severity of accepting the bribes. This falls hand in hand with the third point, raising the pay of players, staff, and officials. Logically, if the people who would normally be the targets of bribery have more money in their pockets, they are more likely to be able to say no.

As far as FIFA corruption is concerned, that is much more of a challenge. The problem is that FIFA is an independent organization that makes its own rules. Therefore rules to prevent bribery would have to be passed through the very organization they are to be governing. More than likely they would either be shot down for some minute detail or the claim of corruption existing in the organization would be flat out rejected.

The only real solution is for clubs, leagues, and fans alike to demand something be done, which is beginning to happen right now. In my opinion, if these solutions are adopted, bribery and corruption will be drastically reduced, helping the game to truly become the best sport in the world.