The Last Word: Match-fixing must be fought as fiercely in sport as doping

In countries where players face intimidation, the problem is

Just days after Australian police busted a match-fixing ring in lower league football, the Singaporean authorities took action against an illegal betting ring headquartered in their backyard.

Tan Seet Eng, known as Dan Tan, has long been cited as the chief organiser of a network of fixers operating primarily in Italy and eastern Europe but has outrun the authorities by falling between the cracks in international jurisdiction.

The fight against this kind of corruption is made even harder by the fact that match-fixing is hard to prove. Not only is it subjective (did the goalkeeper deliberately concede a goal or was he fairly beaten?) but there is rarely a paper trail. Few police forces have the resources or the inclination to build cases.

However, on the evidence of this week, there is clearly – belatedly – a crackdown led by transnational agencies on some of the rogue elements exploiting the worldwide popularity of the game.

It is part of a long overdue acceptance in sport that corruption threatens its very existence if left unopposed. For too long, the authorities have seen the scourge of doping in isolation.

It is by no means wrong to chase down the drugs cheats. The battle there is still far from won. Dopers continue to thrive at the very pinnacle of their sports. Lance Armstrong, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell are just the tip of the iceberg.

But they must be viewed as part of a bigger picture of corruption. Is fixing a game not just as bad as juicing yourself up? Both cheat honest opponents of a fair contest.

Until now, the answer has been no. It is changing, though, as sports’ governing bodies strengthen their ethics guidelines under political pressure and the weight of public opinion.

It went totally unnoticed this month that UK Sport, the funding agency for elite athletes, published a consultation proposing to make match-fixing as much of a crime as doping. In a significant change to its eligibility rules, athletes found guilty of illegal betting or match-fixing face a lifetime ban on public funding. Previously, the suspension of a grant only applied for as long as that person was serving a ban or a prison sentence.

Coincidentally, I was invited this week to Berlin by Transparency International (TI), the anti-corruption NGO, to speak at a seminar on match-fixing. As part of a European Commission-funded project, TI is working with European leagues to devise educational programmes for players, and media strategies to deal with the consequences of corrupt activities involving their competitions.

Germany – chastened by the Bochum case, the biggest prosecution of match-fixing to date – is leading the way. Other countries, such as Greece, which had its own scandal to deal with in 2011, are playing catch-up after finally acknowledging that they have a problem.

I will admit to having been a sceptic myself. I think that – compared with doping – match-fixing is often an overstated issue. Drug-taking is much more widespread and we should not take our eye off it by diverting precious resources.

Another excuse to dismiss it is that it is too merrily leapt upon by headline-seeking politicians and opportunistic sports administrators seeking to create yet another pointless working group.

I concede this is a western perspective further skewed by coming from a football culture where for decades bungs were tacitly accepted as normal business practice. In the UK, where we are inured to the idea that parts of football are bent, it is largely restricted to the invisible lower leagues where the temptation to make a few thousand quid is too strong for low-paid journeymen. Hence, our instinct to marginalise it: “What’s the harm in a few bets on a red card, anyway?”

Such indifference was roundly challenged by Sylvia Schenk, TI’s senior sports adviser, who argued that the growth of internet betting and the increased involvement of large-scale money launderers had turned match-fixing from a one-time petty misdemeanour into a web of serious global criminality. In countries where players and their families face intimidation by criminal gangs for refusing to throw games, the problem is very real.

From a woman unafraid to stand up to the likes of Fifa’s president, Sepp Blatter, and the former president of cycling’s governing body, the UCI, Hein Verbruggen, I should have expected nothing less than a robust rebuke.

She is right, of course. Just because something is difficult to address, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be if it is the right thing to do. The obstacle, however, is priorities.

When national anti-doping budgets are being cut against the backdrop of tough economic choices by governments, what hope do anti-corruption campaigners have of getting funding for their fight?

The answer is that match-fixing and doping should be seen as symptoms of the same malaise. Tackling both in equal measure is a good start to restoring the spiritual health of sport.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003