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.

News
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'