Home > Recommended Reading, Referees > Corrupting the Beautiful, Incorrectly Called Game

Corrupting the Beautiful, Incorrectly Called Game

Woke up this morning just in time to see England’s equalizer not called because the linesman couldn’t get into the correct position.  And invariably because FIFA chose not to use goal-line technology in its balls because it likes a bit of controversy.  It’s “human error” and it’s part of the game.  That’s the message the AP received in preparing its recent article on officiating at the World Cup.  What many Americans may not realize — if they haven’t been following international soccer long enough — is that it’s not just “human error,” it’s corruption.  And even former FIFA presidents have alleged match-fixing occurred to help determine the champions of at least two World Cups: 1966 & 1974.

After the break is a partial litany of the forces involved in corrupting soccer.  But the point of it all is this:  if FIFA were really serious about stopping corruption that impacts the outcome of matches, it would not resist goal-line technology (microchips in balls that send alerts to a referee’s watch when the entire ball has crossed the goal line) and it would implement limited use of instant replay.  Referees can make game-changing decisions in an instant: a red card reduces a side to 10 men for an entire match.  A penalty kick awarded (or denied) can make a huge difference in games often settled by less than two goals.  Same with the failure to award a properly scored goal.  (Can it honestly be said that the England-Germany match today would have been the same if it was tied at the half, as it should have been?)

While there is a beauty to soccer’s current pace, behind the facade is an ugliness.  Just like a newly discovered flaw in a prized possession, once we know it is there and start looking for it, we are almost shocked at how obvious it appears.  And knowing that some players, coaches, and referees are resisting corruption at the cost of their health and perhaps lives should embolden us to fight to fix the beautiful game and give them the recognition and protection that they deserve.

Incomprehensible Wealth

Every James Bond villan-rich individual in the world owns a soccer club.  Men who effectively own whole countries direct their attention on soccer.  And they are passionate about it.  Very passionate.  It is this combination of surreal money, power, and passion that makes soccer what it is.

Imagine being so rich that you could choose a coach for your national team, pay him yourself, and impose him upon the national team.  Roman Abramovich did just that.  He also ADMITTED paying “billions” for political favors and has been accused of a litany of other crimes.  See here and here.  And he owns Chelsea Football Club — perennially favored to be among the top teams in England’s Premier League and the annual UEFA club football tournaments.  To my knowledge, no one has accused Abramovich of attempting to illegally influence the outcome of soccer matches.  He is simply an example of the kind of wealth and power interested in soccer.

Political Power

We all saw images of Bill Clinton watching the U.S. team’s victory over Algeria and loss to Ghana.  But former President Clinton isn’t the only political figure interested in his national team.  Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday, punished Iraqi soccer players for poor performances during international matches.  Uday also allegedly tortured a FIFA-recognized referee after he refused to fix a match according to Uday’s desires.  And it was reported last week, North Korea may send its national team players and their families to work in coal mines based on their elimination from the World Cup.


In addition to the insanely wealthy, soccer also brings keen gambling interest.  During English Premier League matches, the field-encircling banners actually advertise wagers offered based on the ongoing game.  3-1 that the next score will be made by player X is advertised on the billboard for everyone (fans, players, and officials) to see.

How has gambling affected soccer?

Other Corruption

  • Earlier this month, Foreign Policy published an article, “All’s Fair in Love and Soccer” by Henry Carey, that found that  “in Italy, where referee-bribing scandals have plagued the national leagues in recent years, fans have entirely lost confidence in the independence and trustworthiness of their soccer officials.”
  • Also earlier this month, news about the arrest of 22 individuals alleged to have participated in match-fixing in Croatia emerged.  As summarized by The Croatian Soccer Report:

According to the Associated Press, Croatian police have detained 22 individuals on suspicion of soccer match fixing. These individuals are primarily suspected of rigging the games of the domestic Croatian soccer league, better known as the Prva HNL. Furthermore, the Croatian Times reports that the police suspect that international soccer games may have also been compromised in this scandal. According to the Croatian police, profits for fixing these games ranged from $150,000 to $300, 000 Euros, per match.

  • In 2000, Brazil launched a large investigation into corruption within its domestic soccer leagues and interference by Nike with the operations of the Brazilian national team.
  • In February 2010, after China began punishing officials involved in bribing referees and players who threw matches or bribed their way onto the national team, Forbes’ Paul Maidment wrote that “Match-fixing and gambling have always been the ugly side of the beautiful game, nowhere more so than in China.”  According to a 2006 New York Times article, “[i]t was suggested that 70 to 80 percent of the referees in China’s new “Super League” had taken a bribe at least once – and this from corporate executives who paid the money and who came forward under a promise of amnesty in exchange for information.”

Additional Resources

As you might imagine, others have already investigated this story in depth.  If you are interested, I would strongly encourage you to check out their work.  Here are some links to help you get started.

  • Wikipedia entry for “Match Fixing
  • Declan Hill interview in which he claims that match fixing at the 2010 World Cup is “highly probable.”  He also authored a book, “The Fix: Soccer and Organised Crime” published in 2008.
  • Graham Dunbar’s  June 1, 2010 article “Taking Steps to Ensure the Fix isn’t in” broadly discusses corruption in soccer, including on-going investigations in 12 or more European countries, including 4 nations who are competing at the World Cup.

  1. June 28, 2010 at 2:41 am

    The Vision of a Champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, and the point of exhaustion, when no one else is watching.

  1. July 29, 2010 at 12:51 am

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