Stroke of fortune helps Fifa's fight but fixing could go into overdrive
Mastermind arrested by chance as criminals look to cash in before window of opportunity is shut tight
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Thursday 21 July 2011
The figures vary wildly. In some quarters it is claimed the illegal gambling market on football is worth $90bn. According to Chris Eaton, a snappily dressed Australian policeman who has swapped a decade with Interpol to lead Fifa's security unit, a more realistic valuation is around half that. Either way it is a vast figure and demonstrates why match-fixing syndicates, many with roots in Singapore and Malaysia, are prepared to spend large amounts in seeking to maintain a lucrative and heavily polluted income stream.
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Match-fixing in football has deep roots – Sheffield Wednesday players were at the heart of a British betting scandal in the 1960s – but the explosion in gambling in the Far East and the global reach of match-fixers with links to organised crime has seen a rapid spread of the problem, one whose scale is now being exposed in part due to Fifa's belated moves to fight back to protect the sport's on-field integrity.
"You are chasing people who are greedy and greedy people leave trails," said Eaton, who swapped his job as Interpol's director of operations in Nyon for a very different role along the road in Zurich.
Wilson Raj Perumal left a trail that began with a stroke of luck. The Singaporean was arrested in February as he tried to enter Finland on a fake passport. He was already a figure that Fifa's security unit were aware of and his co-operation with the Finnish authorities has confirmed to Eaton the reach, and threat, of such groups. In Lapland District Court in Rovaniemi, a small town near the Arctic Circle, Perumal was revealed to be one of six people from Asia and Eastern Europe involved in this particular match-fixing ring.
"Perumal would tell you that he's been in probably half the countries in the football world in the last 10 years. He hasn't been there as a tourist – he's been there as a match fixer," said Eaton. Perumal's name crops up regularly around a number of matches under investigation – the fake Togo team, the two international friendlies in Turkey, a Concacaf Champions League game in El Salvador. There have been other arrests too – in Turkey, Germany and South Korea. Recently, Rajendran Kurusamy, a 51-year-old Eaton alleges is a key figure in the match-fixing world, was arrested in Malaysia. He has been linked to attempts to fix Under-20 matches, an area that Eaton has highlighted as one of Fifa's main concerns.
Education, particularly around that age group, is seen as paramount, and Fifa is set to follow cricket in ensuring players are alerted to the threat and able to deal with it. "Interpol's training and development programme is a 10-year one. It recognises the need to have a cultural shift," said Eaton.
He predicts the threat will grow over the coming months as a result of efforts to drive out fixers – an outcome that Eaton defiantly insists will come to pass. He said: "At the moment we have this enormous expansion in the identification of match-fixing. They have invested heavily in the development of compromising players and officials and because they now see that Fifa is serious they realise the easy way of fixing matches will be closed so they are trying to get as much out of their investments as they can before it becomes too difficult."
The co-operation with Interpol is crucial and Eaton has also been impressed with measures in place in the UK. But he wants more from other countries. He said: "The greatest responsibility lies with governments. They are the ones that ought to be responding to criminal elements that are corrupting their athletic youth. I want to see the police organisations of the world better prepared, better trained and better able to investigate allegations of match-fixing."
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