Part 1: Match Fixing

Once upon a time, the game was tagged the beautiful game. It was a game loved, adored, respected and even worshipped by man across the globe. It was a game that transcend across race, religion and geographical locations. From Cairo to Adelaide, Alaska to Jo’Burg, Helsinki to Jakarta it’s played everywhere in the world. It’s the only object that held the human race together with the same goal.  Its football, the beautiful game. Also known as soccer, depending on the divide of the globe you belong, football is known all over the world as the king of sports. It’s the number 1 sports on earth. It’s loved and watched by the poor and the rich, the small and the big, the powerful and the powerless, the rulers and their subjects as well as the high and the mighty.

Unfortunately, those aspects of the game that makes it beautiful and attractive to all are being threatening on a daily basis. Some says, the game has lost its glamour others say it’s losing it day by day, minute by minute.  The former believed that the game has lost it in totality while the latter believes there are still room to remedy the situation. But the truth is that the shining skin of the beautiful game is currently being delved by the ugly monsters that surround it. And if care is not taken, the fabrics of the game would turn dirty and its beauty would soon disappear never to reappear. The irony of the whole situation is that these problems confronting the game were creations of its success. And because these problems are created by the game itself, the administrators that run the game are not noticing these challenges. The implications are that the issue is becoming more and more difficult to address.

This bring to fore Bills Gate’s words that says “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose”. The administrators are turning blind eyes to the problems. Whenever, the problems are brought to their notice (as that is the obvious now), they handle sensitive issues with glove hands. Recent happening around the game has shown that there is a need and an urgent one specifically, that these challenges should be tackled head-on and the game’s beauty (ies) must be preserved. To buttress this, recalled Sepp Blatter’s comments above most of the issues. During the Hamman/Warner tsunami, Blatter told journalist, after different allegations had been mentioned, that the game is not in crisis. His weird handshake solution to racism-related offences is another example that shows that the administrators of the game have not seen the dangers that all the issues surrounding the game portends for the future of the game.

Recently, in Turkey over 100 persons including club officials, players and administrators of the game were arrested on match fixing allegations. Many have been jailed while others including a topclub president were convicted. In Africa, over 80 persons including players were also banned from football activities in Zimbabwe while the trial of the former FA boss is still ongoing. The second series of the calciopoli called the “the Last Bet” is also ongoing in Italy where players especially in Serie B are under investigation. A national team player was dropped from Euro 2012 squad while the league winner’s coach is under investigation. Match fixing is one problem that is threatening the survival of the game. It’s a problem that is capable of destroying the past, the present and the future of the game. This is because most allegations has to do with past matches and when those allegations happened to be true it create an impression on the minds of the followers who then doubt the result of the ones being played today or would be played later in the future. It is a monster that is already feeding on the flesh and blood of the game and if care is not taken, it’s would eat up the game. The problem is all over the globe. From Italy ( ie Calciopoli), Germany, Romania, Liberia, Ghana, Vietnam, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Nigeria, South Africa etc, the ugly face of match fixing is showing across all continents affecting the game from the grassroots to the national level.

The sad angle to the issue of match fixing is that the authorities of the game are not giving it the deserved attention. At least till now, the common sanction is bans and jail terms for the guilty ones. But this seems not enough. The punishment is not deterring the actors from their acts as we can see in the case of Wilson Perumal who was convicted in the Finnish match fixing case and recently was discovered to be the kingpin behind the match fixing scandals in Zimbabwe. Also, his company Footbal Focus was fingered out as the firm that duped the South African football authorities into arranging some fixed international friendlies which were recently discovered to be fixed. Some of the referees that handled these matches are living big in their country with a particular one from Niger Rep that has his life changed after handling one of these matches.

 Match fixing as a problem is as a result of the influx of cash into the game. In the past, the essence of the game is entertainment and joy it brings for its followers, and this take precedence above any commercial reasons. The likes of former CAF boss, Ethiopian Ydnetchekhew Tessema fought the battle all their life, of saving the game from the cash. They reserved the essence of the game and never allow commercial reasons to prevail on the game. Then, players are committed to national team cause and there is pride in wearing their national team jerseys. Today, the reverse is the game. Moneybags now dictates the games. From the Sheikhs of Manchester City, PSG, and Malaga;  the Russian oligarchs of Chelsea, Anzhi Machakala, FC Neuchatel Xamax and recently Monaco; and Yankees in Manchester United, Liverpool, AS Roma, Aston Villa etc; the game is now in the hands of the commercial capitalist that runs the economies of the world. The entertainment value of the game has been slaughtered at the slap of cash. Teams were bought and resold for commercial reasons and the essence of entertainment and joy has been destroyed.

There seems no problem for these clubs to be sold to the moneybags. On the surface, there is no issue after all it would empowered the clubs to challenge for honours and thread in areas that one can never have imagine as a fan of such clubs. An example is Manchester City that won the 2011 FA cup and the EPL title in 2012. These are dreams that Man City fans are not envisaging some seven years ago. However, the coming of the investors brought about major issues that are affecting the game as a whole. As in many cases, most of these investors did not have any relationship with the club history and at time, nothing with the game entirely. This brought about the question that relates to their main objective of buying these clubs. Is it for commercial purposes or what? This is a million dollar question that require urgent answers. Another problem is the sincerity of their investment and their ability to sustain the euphoria that their purchase usually brought to the club history. To buttress this point, let’s recalled the issue with Real Betis, Rangers FC, Neuchatel Xamax and even Manchester City under PM Thinkastin of Thailand. These investors came to these clubs without clear plan and after sometime they left these clubs in worse state than they met. Except Manchester City that was rescued by the Oil Sheikhs, others are currently facing serious financial issues that can lead to these clubs going to extinction.

Another issue that comes with these investments from “strangers” in these clubs is that dearth of young talents from these clubs. Coming with these investments is the quest for quick success. The quest creates pressure on the coaches and leads them to purchase “ready-made” players. Though, some of these investors comes with the usual solemn of “developing home grown talents”, the realities differs. Young talents are not given enough chance and rather they are sent on loan to clubs where they have to adapt to a different style. In most cases, they come out worse and the rest would be for history. For example, Scott Sinclair is doing wonders with Swansea today but many never recalled that he is one of the young talents in the Chelsea academy some years back. John Guidetti is currently with Feyennord on loan from Manchester City and is currently setting the Eredivisie on fire. These are players that never had their chances in their parent club set up due to the problem mentioned above.

For every club, the fan is an integral part of their existence. But with the coming of these new owners, nothing of such is been accorded these fans. The owners treat them like any other tool that can be used in making money. With the coming to these clubs, comes an astronomical increase in ticket price. Fans pays dearly to watch their team in order to allow the investors recoup their investment in record time. To belief this, you need to ask an loyal Manchester United fan the difference between their season ticket price in 2001 pre-Glazier era and now.

Take goodness for the coming of financial fair play. There is huge gap between the have and have-nots in the game. Take a look across the world and you will clearly agree with me that the dominant teams in each league are the ones with the bucks. In England, the home of the “Good is Greed League” (apology to Brian Glanville), there was a traditional four with huge cash to spent but now, the moneybags from the Persian Gulf now rule with their blue half of Manchester. Then there is a Spurs from North London that are also splashing the cash. If you doubt why Manchester United has won the last four of the five EPL titles, check how much they spent every summer post Glaziers era. In Spain, its a two horse way fight between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Last season, it was a 30 point difference between them and the third placed team, Valencia and I can tell you that this can be translated to mean 210million pounds, the difference in their bank accounts. In Scotland, it has always been Rangers and Celtic, the money backs in Old Firm Road though the bust at Rangers and the subsequent vote by the other club not to admit them to the SPL has changed the course. In Portugal its a fight between Benfica and Porto. Sporting Lisbon and Braga can’t put up any fight for the title recently because their bank account can’t buy the players required though their academy is giving them some glimse of hope.  In Germany, its Bayern Munich and the rest. Though Borussia Dortmund won the league last but their finances can’t be compared to Bayern Munich. In France, it has been Olympique Lyon for the better part of the last decade. The reason is because of the cash from Jean Aulas. As soon as he closed his purse, the title stopped. Today, others like PSG are challenging because they have the cash to take from the Oil Sheikhs though Montpellier gave some of us little glimpse of hope that cash cant buy the title all the time.

The haves pays their stars outrageous wages while the have nots pay peanuts to their players. Please note the differences; one is a team with stars while the other has players in their team. The difference in their wages has a direct psychological impact on these players as well as the officials. And in order to meet up with the huge demand of becoming a star in their respective area, these players get the cash from other illicit means such match fixing etc. Is the beautiful game not getting ugly?

It is important for FIFA to address the issue of match fixing and the presence of huge finances in the games as it is the problems that can destroy all the good things about football. The problems are serious one and curbing it would help address all of the issues mentioned above. These problems can be related to social issues as some would argue that the current financial issues affecting the Spain has some of its origin to huge loans owed some of the collapsed banks by the football clubs. The purchase of C. Ronaldo by Real Madrid using borrowed funds from the bank is a testimony of this.

The introduction of the financial fair play would bring some sanity into the finances of these clubs. Though, the idea sounds brilliant, the major issue is the implementation as well as the interpretation of the rules as we have seen some of these clubs coming up with different “sponsorship” deals that can undermine the objectives of the law. Also, the footballing authorities should place more attention to the issue of match fixing as their current level of involvement is worrisome. For example, at its today, FIFA only sanction erring officials and players based on the enquiry from the national bodies. In some cases, like currently in Zimbabwe, these enquiries could take ages for its completion depending on the level of corruption within the society.