The growing scandal of match-fixing by certain players belonging to K-League teams is a depressing one. If there is any consolation it lies in the fact that it is being taken seriously as authorities ― both of the soccer and police varieties ― move quickly to punish offenders and try to take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
If there is another source of consolation it is that the competition lies in fairly esteemed company. There are few leagues around the world that haven’t, at one time or another, battled similar problems.
According to a BBC report in 2010, an estimated 300 games every year are fixed in Europe. The massive growth in Internet betting presents a threat to the sport.
Not only can gamblers wager on the results of games but they can also have a flutter on a whole host of events such as the time of the first corner, how many yellow cards the referee hands out, the scoreline at halftime and full time ― basically anything you can think of.
It may be true that the majority of problems occur in Eastern Europe, but there are enough controversies that appear with enough regularity in some of the more glamorous leagues in Western Europe to demonstrate that vigilance is always required.
At a match-fixing trail in Germany in February, Carsten Koerl, CEO of Sportradar, a company that monitors betting patterns, warned that the practice was on the rise. “Manipulations are increasing,” said Koerl. “In the past five months we assume that between 70 and 100 games in Europe were manipulated,” and added that it had happened in 24 European countries.
“There is a clear development in this (betting activity) given that nowadays there are many more possibilities to earn money from this,” Koerl said.
At that trial, the court sentenced two match-fixers to more than five years in prison for bribing players and officials in European games, including a UEFA Champions League match between Italy’s Fiorentina and Debrecen from Hungary.
Perhaps the most infamous example of recent years came in Italy. In 2006, the scandal known as Calciopoli cut a devastating swathe through soccer in the nation though it wasn’t connected to gambling. Here, top clubs such as champion Juventus and Milan were found to have influenced the soccer authorities to appoint “friendly” referees for their games in order to have a better chance of winning. Juventus was relegated to the second tier as punishment while Milan had a point deduction to deal with.
Allegations surfaced in Spain in 2007. The game between Malaga’s 2-1 and Tenerife on June 15, was won by Malaga and confirmed its promotion to the top tier and was investigated.
Two days later, Athletic Bilbao defeated Levante 2-0 in another match that came under suspicion. Germany has not been immune either. In 2005, top referee Robert Hoyzer was sentenced to two years and five months in prison after he admitted trying to fix nine matches.
Despite that, there is a worry in the big leagues such as the English Premier League can be complacent. England has yet to have a major scandal of late but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to worry about.
In 1965, 10 players, including England internationals, were imprisoned for match-fixing but the game has changed since then. The massive popularity of the English Premier League in Asia, especially in certain betting mad regions, means that the opportunities to make money are there despite a lack of high-profile scandals in recent years.
The last big one came in 1994 when Bruce Grobbelaar, who was the goalkeeper for Liverpool for much of the eighties when the club was regularly champion of England and Europe, was accused by the Sun tabloid of throwing three games after being paid by a Hong Kong betting syndicate.
In two successive trials, the juries in England could not agree on a verdict and the Zimbabwean was cleared. Since then, there have been issues in the lower leagues but nothing, as yet, in the Premier League.
It may not make the match-fixing problems in Korea any easier to deal with but authorities at least know that they are not alone.
By John Duerden, Contributing writer (email@example.com