Senior Football Association officials in charge of maintaining the integrity of the game are privately worried that they are powerless to act against an increasing threat of match-fixing and other betting-related malpractice.
"There's no proof of endemic corruption, but cases have cropped up, and continue to do so, and they are becoming more complex and harder to investigate," one well-placed source has told The Independent. "We have issues with the policing of the integrity of the game and can't, under current circumstances, provide any guarantees that we can protect it."
The FA has a secrecy policy surrounding investigations so it is impossible to know how many cases of alleged corruption are under scrutiny, let alone details of what the FA actually does in investigations. "In practice, it is often very little," says another source.
Thus the FA will not detail how it investigated allegations surrounding irregular betting patterns in Asian markets on the Championship match between Norwich and Derby last autumn. It opened and closed what was claimed to be a thorough investigation within two months.
Nor will it say what progress has been made in discovering who placed unusually large sums of cash – in CCTV-equipped betting shops – on Bury beating Accrington in League Two last May. Betting was suspended and Bury won. The investigation remains open nine months on.
Nor will the FA give details of investigations, if any, into allegations of match-fixing in the non-league game late last year, or ongoing probes into reports, including in this newspaper, of players accepting bribes to get red-carded.
"No comment" is the stock phrase, although the FA privately argues it is hamstrung on what it can do. Scant resources are one issue. It is understood that only one FA employee at any one time from a staff of around 20 in the regulation department works full-time on betting integrity issues.
"This is a problem not just for football but for the whole sports industry," an FA source says. "Policing costs money, and the gambling industry needs to contribute more. The FA as a governing body is also helpless to prevent the availability of what might be considered 'high-risk' betting markets."
Last year the FA was forced to be more transparent than usual in one case following questions in Parliament from the Norwich North MP, Ian Gibson, and the Norfolk North MP, Norman Lamb, about alleged irregularities in betting on the Norwich-Derby game. Their intervention prompted the FA to confirm it was looking at a specific game.
Gibson, who has met with the FA to discuss the subject and will also meet soon with the Gambling Commission, was last night awaiting a response to another parliamentary question, this time addressed to Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, relating to how many times he or his predecessors have liaised with the FA on these issues in the last five years. Gibson has also written to the FA to seek details about the processes of investigations, and ask whether the FA feels it is adequately staffed and funded to deal with any threat from gambling-related corruption.
While the English game has been largely untarnished by serious cases of substantiated corruption, leagues as comparable as Germany and Italy have been hit in recent years, as too have more obviously susceptible targets in eastern Europe and Asia.
"My appetite has been whetted by contact with the FA and the answers they have provided to my initial inquiries," Gibson told The Independent. "I know, for example, that the FA is severely restricted in what it is able to do about betting on English football, especially in Asian markets. While they don't deny that [irregular betting] could occur, and it probably does happen, they seem to need more stimulation to investigate the source of the bets and find out who benefits from the results. At the moment we have a far from satisfactory situation."
An FA spokesman said last night the FA was unable to comment on any ongoing investigations, or even say how many there were.
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