Mafia bosses, triads, kungfu gangs, invisible ninjas, Samurai swordsmen. Presumably that’s what Europol meant it said “ringleaders of Asian origin” had conspired to fix nearly 700 soccer matches for illegal betting gains. Europe’s police unit was woefully light on details when it announced the news this week so we can only speculate about what exactly has taken place.
Singapore’s Dan Tan, for whom Interpol has issued an arrest warrant, appears to be the major villain of the piece, but Singaporean police have said he’s as good as innocent, so don’t hold your breath.
Is anyone shocked by the match-fixing charges? The biggest surprise to me is that only 2 million euros in corrupt payments were alleged to have been made. Sure, that’s not an insignificant amount of money, but spread out over 680 matches, it’s an average of 2,940 euros per fixed game. Each game has at least one lead actor, but in many cases, two, three, four or more players will be ‘on the take’ and that doesn’t leave a whole load of euros to go around.
It’s inconceivable to think that top-level players who earn tens of thousands of dollars/pounds/euros a week (a huge amount, whatever the denominated currency), would throw a game for an amount far, far smaller. It’s more likely, then, that the match-fixing is not really match-fixing at all in the sense of manipulating the result of a game, but more likely about controlling the little details.
My favourite story on this topic comes from England international Matt Le Tissier’s autobiography, in which he quite openly admits to trying – and failing – to manipulate a spread bet in a game in which he was playing back in 1995. Take it away Matt…
“I couldn’t see a problem with making a few quid on the time of the first throw-in. Spread betting had just started to become popular. It was a new idea that allowed punters to back anything from the final score to the first throw-in. There was a lot of money to be made by exploiting it, we stood to win well into four figures.
It seemed to be going like clockwork. We kicked-off, the ball was tapped to me and I went to hit it out towards Neil Shipperley on the left wing. As it was live on television, I didn’t want to make it too obvious, so I tried to hit it just over his head. But, with so much riding on it, I was a bit nervous and didn’t give it enough welly.
The problem was that Shipps knew nothing about the bet and managed to reach it and even head it back into play. I have never run so much in my life. Suddenly it was no longer a question of winning money. We stood to lose a lot of cash if it went much longer than 75 seconds before the ball went out. I had visions of a guy coming to kneecap me.”
In the end, the ball went out of play after 70 seconds and Le Tissier and friends neither won nor lost money. But the facts that a) he didn’t feel he was doing anything wrong, b) he later admitted to the story unprompted, c) the police saw no point in following up on the case and d) most people just think it’s a funny story all point towards this being acceptable and/or tolerated behaviour, if not quite technically legal. You might disagree, but I would argue there is a big difference between what Le Tissier did and kicking the ball in your own net for a wad of cash. In Le Tissier’s own words:
I’d never have done anything that might have affected the outcome of the match.
But that’s where the dastardly Asian gangs come in. One presumes – because ringleaders of Asian origin are beyond evil – that their intentions are somewhat darker than oh-so-funny Le Tissier and mates, and that they might actually kneecap someone.
While most deals involving Asians and the EPL are largely above board, when it comes to match-fixing, Asians always get the blame. In the 1990’s, Malaysians were on the hook for attempting to cut the power at various English Premier League games, because Malaysian bookmakers back then would pay out on the result at the time the game was called off. When Liverpool (who were also implicated, however remotely, in this latest scandal) played Charlton, there was also a Chinese guy arrested (along with two more Malaysians and a Brit) for plotting to turn out the stadium lights.
Makes you think twice about what happened at the Super Bowl…