July 2, 2014

“Fixing” soccer games for fun and profit

Filed under: Business, Law, Soccer — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:49

Bill Barnwell discusses what we know (or what we’ve been told) about corruption in soccer matches all the way from Finland to Cameroon to the current World Cup fixtures in Brazil:

Late Monday night, FIFA’s worst nightmare began to break. The Cameroon Football Federation sent out an urgent press release announcing that they were investigating claims that several of Cameroon’s recent matches were fixed, most notably the country’s 4-0 loss to Croatia during the group stage of the World Cup. The allegations come from a story in German newspaper Der Spiegel, which reported that notable alleged Singaporean match fixer Wilson Raj Perumal told the paper in a pre-match Facebook chat that the African side would have a player sent off in the first half before losing 4-0. Both would later occur in the match. Perumal further alleged that the Cameroon team had “seven bad apples” and has been involved, to some extent, with fixing all three of its group stage matches before exiting the tournament.

Perumal has since issued a statement, via the co-authors of his biography, denying that he predicted the result.

Of course, allegations of fixed soccer matches aren’t anything new. What makes this so shocking and so meaningful is the idea that a World Cup match was fixed. It’s one thing for some third-division match under a rock in front of 40 people to be rigged. If a World Cup match can be manipulated with the globe watching, though, is there any match that can’t be fixed?


Perumal and an associate eventually found their way to Scandinavia, where they would fix matches at a number of clubs in Finland. Most notably, Perumal offered to invest more than a million Euros in struggling Finnish side Tampere United if they allowed him to invite several awful players from outside the country on the take to come play for the club. They took about half of the money and didn’t bother to play the players Perumal brought on; they’re also now banned from Finnish soccer. For some of his fixes, Perumal was actually able to issue instructions during matches to players on the pitch from the team bench.

Perumal suggests that he didn’t need influence over much of a team to fix a match, preferring to focus on the defense. “I prefer back-line players: the two central defenders, the last man stopper and the goalkeeper. If you can get three back-line players on your payroll then you can execute a fix because, when you want to lose, the attackers can’t help you,” he wrote.


As for Cameroon, well, it’s hard to say what will become of them. If there are seven players on the team who are proven to have fixed matches at the World Cup, their punishment will be severe, with permanent banishment from the sport a likely option. I’ll be intrigued to see what the investigation reveals, even if I’m very skeptical that an investigation conducted by the Cameroon FA and FIFA will be very thorough. They have little to gain from revealing their own corruption. I don’t know that Cameroon necessarily manipulated results during this World Cup, but I would be surprised if the entire tournament actually went untouched by match fixers. There’s simply too much to be gained and too little to stop it from occurring.

June 16, 2014

FIFA and the World Cup

Filed under: Americas, Bureaucracy, Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:29

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

June 10, 2014

England’s World Cup team – where’s the hype?

Filed under: Britain, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:57

BBC News Magazine has expatriot Scot Jon Kelly wondering where all the traditional pro-England hype has gone, compared to previous World Cup campaigns:

The flags are missing from the cars. British newspapers aren’t heralding imminent victory. In pubs from Penrith to Plymouth there’s a distinct lack of gaiety, optimism and hope.

I for one couldn’t be happier.

As a Scotsman resident in London, I’ve come to dread the wildly delusional over-confidence that grips my adopted homeland every time an international football tournament is staged.

The certainty of victory. The talk of a “golden generation”. The interminable references to 1966. And the inevitable splutterings of anguish when it’s eventually confirmed on the pitch that, actually, Germany or Argentina or Portugal are superior teams after all.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like all things Anglo very much. While Scotland will always be the national side I support, in spite of our dependable rubbishness, I’ve always felt the Anyone-But-England tendency among some of my fellow Scots diminishes our status as a self-confident, modern nation.

1966 – it seems like only yesterday to many England fans

But the bellicose hysteria that envelops many in England — not to mention the irritating assumption by certain broadcasters, newspapers and advertisers that their audiences are comprised entirely of England fans — makes the team in white a difficult one for non-English folk to like, never mind cheer on.

And I say all this as someone who takes an interest in football. For those who dislike the game, it must be excruciating.

This year it’s different, however. No-one with more than a cursory knowledge of the international game seriously believes England will win.

That much is true: if they stick to the traditional formula, they’ll go out on penalties in the quarter-finals.

Invariably, a motley crew of psychologists, positive-thinking gurus and snake-oil sellers will be forming a queue outside FA headquarters, offering cures for the English penalty curse. I think there’s a simpler solution. Let’s campaign for spot kicks to be scrapped. We should use whatever arguments we think might work. I’d play the inclusion card. Penalty kicks clearly discriminate against the mentally frail. The English, who suffer from a collective, penalty-induced trauma, will always get a raw deal. How can that be fair? If FIFA wants a truly level playing field, the answer is to get rid of the pseudo-lottery of spot kicks. What we need is a proper lottery. We don’t want skill or nerve to play any part. Tossing a coin, rolling dice, drawing straws, a game of scissor-paper-stone — anything is better than a shootout. Come on Mr Blatter, give us chokers a chance.

Still one of my favourite World Cup comments (and I’m flying the English flag for the tournament):

April 4, 2013

“So yet again the English have lost a football shoot-out against the Germans”

Filed under: Soccer, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:11

The Register‘s John Leyden takes a predictable line after the international governing body for soccer went with a German firm’s product over an English competitor:

The GoalControl-4D system features 14 high-speed cameras around a football pitch focused on both goal mouths to help match officials determine whether or not the ball has crossed the goal-line.

The ball’s position is continuously and automatically captured in three dimensions when it is close to the goal, GoalControl explains. If the ball has passed the goal line, the system’s CPU sends an encrypted radio signal to the referee’s watch in less than one second.

GoalControl offers the possibility of providing replays as well as the ability to be installed within existing goal frames and nets, without needing hi-tech additions to the match balls themselves.

The technology will be put through its paces at the upcoming Confederations Cup in Brazil. If trials progress as planned the technology will be deployed at next year’s eagerly anticipated tournament.

GoalControl (which sounds like US commentator-speak for a goalkeeper) was picked ahead of three other FIFA-licensed technology providers, including British firm Hawkeye. So yet again the English have lost a football shoot-out against the Germans.

February 7, 2013

Soccer’s greatest scandal yet … may be far worse than the 680 fixed matches we’ve heard about

Filed under: Law, Media, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:13

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.

August 9, 2012

Cam Cole: FIFA launches “Captain Renault-style” investigation

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Soccer, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Now that we’ve all had a bit of time to calm down about the awful officiating in the Canada vs USA women’s soccer game, Cam Cole explains why FIFA should penalize the Canadian team for their intemperate comments:

On a magnificently warm, sunny Wednesday at the pristine playing fields of Warwick University, all was forgiven if not forgotten by the Canadian women.

Word spread quickly that FIFA, the sports governing body, had determined that its investigation into the bitter post-game remarks by the losing side needed more time and … well, had basically decided to bury the whole thing and maybe one day suspend the star of Canada’s team, Burnaby’s Christine Sinclair, at some future date — like for a couple of friendlies she hadn’t planned to play anyway.

To say coach John Herdman was relieved to have his best player available for Thursday’s bronze medal match against France — to say nothing of the thunder to Sinclair’s lightning, the equally vocal Melissa Tancredi — is a considerable understatement.

[. . .]

And let’s face it, the Canadians were out of order by almost any sport’s standards in the volume and toxicity of their remarks about the Norwegian referee.

If they had merely said she was blind as a platypus and ought to be carrying a white cane and have a guide dog to help her navigate the field, they’d have been well within the bounds of fair comment.

It was when Sinclair accused Pedersen of having decided the result before the first ball was kicked, and when Tancredi suggested that the referee slept in Team USA jammies, that matters crossed the line from acceptable criticism to slander.

Ineptitude is one thing, bias quite another.

So FIFA took matters under advisement, and launched the kind of thorough investigation that Claude Rains launched when Humphrey Bogart shot the German general at the end of Casablanca.

Of course, I must point out that Cole is absolutely wrong here: it was Major Strasser who was shot, not a German general.

June 28, 2012

Duleep Allirajah: “Penalties. Again. Jesus, it’s like bloody Groundhog Day.”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:16

More cogitation on England’s inglorious record of penalty kick performance:

Why do England always lose on penalties? It’s like one of those big ontological questions which children ask — like ‘Why is the sky blue?’ — which invariably stump parents. These are self-evident truths, but we struggle to explain them. The players practice spot-kicks regularly. The goalkeepers meticulously study the penalty traits of their opponents. And yet we always, always bottle it. Why? Roy Hodgson was at a loss to explain what went wrong. ‘I don’t know how to answer why we cannot win penalties shootouts. It can go either way. It is a difficult one. Anyone can win’, he said. ‘I think penalties is always down to luck. It is a lottery. It is just the way it goes in football.’

It’s an old cliché that penalties are a lottery. It also happens to be nonsense, as I’ve argued before. Sure, luck plays a part. But, ultimately, penalty shootouts are tests of psychological strength. They are won and lost in the mind. It’s all about keeping focused, banishing the doubts and holding one’s nerve under extreme pressure. Easier said than done, of course, but successive penalty shootout defeats are imprinted on our sporting psyche. The inevitability of failure has become a myth that all of us — footballers included — have come to believe. Did you see the terror in Ashley Young’s face as he was about to take his ill-fated kick? The ghosts of all those missed penalties had returned to haunt him.

Invariably, a motley crew of psychologists, positive-thinking gurus and snake-oil sellers will be forming a queue outside FA headquarters, offering cures for the English penalty curse. I think there’s a simpler solution. Let’s campaign for spot kicks to be scrapped. We should use whatever arguments we think might work. I’d play the inclusion card. Penalty kicks clearly discriminate against the mentally frail. The English, who suffer from a collective, penalty-induced trauma, will always get a raw deal. How can that be fair? If FIFA wants a truly level playing field, the answer is to get rid of the pseudo-lottery of spot kicks. What we need is a proper lottery. We don’t want skill or nerve to play any part. Tossing a coin, rolling dice, drawing straws, a game of scissor-paper-stone — anything is better than a shootout. Come on Mr Blatter, give us chokers a chance.

July 1, 2011

Duleep Allirajah: “The Most Pointless Sporting Argument Ever”

Filed under: Britain, Soccer — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:32

He’s quite right: this has to be the nadir of international sporting debates:

Where do you stand on the controversial issue of a Great Britain football team? Disgusted that the British Olympic Association is threatening the independence and proud traditions of the home football nations? Angered that the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish associations are trying to thwart the Olympic dreams of their young players? Or, like me, do you want to be woken up when The Most Pointless Sporting Argument Ever is over?

If you’re wondering why the proposal for a unified British football team has caused such controversy, let me explain. There has never been a single UK football association. Instead, all four countries — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — have their own football associations. Each country is recognised by FIFA as a separate entity even though they are not sovereign nations. It’s one of the residual privileges enjoyed by the nation that invented the game. Although the Brits have minimal influence within FIFA, as the 2018 World Cup bid and the farcical presidential election demonstrated, all four UK nations are represented on the eight-member International Football Association Board (IFAB), which is the sport’s law-making body. The home nations also retain the right to appoint a FIFA vice-president. Although the English FA is keen on fielding a British team in the 2012 Games, the other national associations fear that their independence and FIFA privileges will be jeopardised as a result.

The debate took a farcical twist this week when the British Olympic Association (BOA) announced that an ‘historic agreement’ had been reached with all the home nations to field a Great Britain team at the Olympics. However, no sooner had the BOA made its announcement than the Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland football associations angrily denied that any agreement had been reached. Oops!

March 11, 2010

Reducing the over-mighty penalty kick in soccer

Filed under: Soccer — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 13:08

Andrew Potter makes a strong case for FIFA to address the disproportional effect of awarded penalty kicks in soccer games:

. . . the real problem is that it is the penalty shot itself which is unsportsmanlike. With a success rate of 85% it is already such a gross mismatch in the striker’s favour that I don’t see how much additional advantage is gained by permitting a bit of a fake-out; if anything, I suspect we’ll see the occasional embarrassment when a shot-taker pauses over the ball only to see the goalie standing calmly, waiting for a week one-legged kick from an out-faked faker.

But otherwise, I expect the penalty shot to continue to wreak havoc with the tactical nature of the game, for two reasons. First, because goals are so hard to come by in regular play, second, because a penalty shot has such a high success rate, and third, because one must be awarded for any direct foul inside the 18-yard box ­ the referee has no discretion here ­ it makes diving (or “simulation”) one of the most effective moves in the attacker’s arsenal. It doesn’t matter if you were hauled down from behind at the 8 yard line while on a breakway, or tripped by accident in the far corner of the box with your back to the goal, both get you a trip to the twelve-yard line for a pk, and what is pretty close to a free goal.

I can think of fewer rules in sport that have such an overwhelming impact on how the game is played, and play such a decisive role in determining the outcome of so many games. As such, I find the penalty kick in soccer one of the most unsportsmanlike elements in any sport. But maybe this is because I misunderstand the intent of the rule.

Back when I was still coaching youth soccer, we didn’t have too much trouble with penalties, but only because our games were played with only a single official. As soon as you add in a couple of assistant referees, the number of penalties awarded seemed to go up . . . because there was more chance that infractions would be noticed with the extra eyes on the game (and probably also a greater chance that diving would successfully draw a penalty, too).

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