Soccer is a huge global sport (yes, my American friends, it really is). It’s also the favourite sport for Asian gamblers to lose money over, and Europol has highlighted 680 “suspicious” matches so far:
It’s huge news, not because the results are particularly surprising — there’s plenty of other evidence, even recent evidence, that match-fixing is rampant in global soccer — but because the sheer extent of the allegations means that we can no longer delude ourselves about what’s happening. This is what’s happening: Soccer is fucked. Match-fixing is corroding the integrity of the game at every level. It’s not just South African friendlies or Korean league games or Chinese “black whistles”; it’s not even just the occasional Calciopoli-type scandal that you can explain away by saying “well, Italy is Italy.” Operation Veto found suspect World Cup qualifiers, suspect European Championship qualifiers, suspect Champions League games. It found 150 suspect matches at the international level, on multiple continents. It found 380 suspect matches in Europe overall. It found a suspect match involving Liverpool that was played at Anfield, arguably the most celebrated club and stadium in England.
These are tip-of-the-iceberg numbers. The investigation didn’t turn up every instance of match-fixing everywhere; they’re just talking about the possibilities they’ve turned up. Concise evidence of what’s still hidden: Europol revealed that they’d found $11 million in organized-crime profits. Sound a little low to you? Chris Eaton, the former FIFA security director who now runs the International Centre for Sports Security in Qatar, thinks the actual number is maybe a hundred times that high.
So let’s say I told you that a major international law-enforcement agency had uncovered a mountain of evidence that indicates the most popular sport in the world was being manipulated by a criminal ring that was profiting to the tune of — conservatively — millions of dollars. On one level, that’s good news, isn’t it? I mean, it’s terrible that it happened, but now that the police know, things can change! We’ll see arrests! We’ll see books opened! The truth will come to light! At a minimum, FIFA will take strong and immediate steps to make sure this never happens again. Right?
Let me answer that question by referring you to the phrase that I hope will be your primary takeaway from this piece. Soccer. Is. Fucked.