The Truly Big Fix: How Law Enforcement & the News Let Us Down

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Newsflash! Corruption exists! So does organized crime! If you’ve read The Fix by Declan Hill, published way back in 2010, then you know that gambling-addicts in Asia like to bet on (and rig) games in poor countries. Thus, Europol’s recent announcement of “widespread” match-fixing did not rock your boat.

In fact, some aspects of the Europol announcement are more troubling than the actual content.

First, Europol claimed in the presser that they uncovered 380 suspicious games in Europe and 300 suspicious games elsewhere. However, their methodology for “suspicious game” is not exactly crystal clear. And here’s one of my big beefs with Europol and the press coverage: who, how, and why do we jump from “suspicious games” to “widespread match-fixing”? Suspicious to fixed is a big jump. This is a classic example of the headline driving the news and content, not vice versa.

Second, the use of the term “widespread” is both accurate and disingenuous. Yes, “suspicious matches” have occurred in over a hundred countries. However, feel free to take a glance at the graft level of the countries in question at transparency international. So, Eastern European, Asian, and African countries with major corruption issues experience corruption in soccer! Amazing! I would never have guessed it. However, “widespread” implies that Western European and American countries should have experienced match-fixing. Did the Columbus Crew throw that MLS regular season game vs. the Portland Timbers? Not exactly. Unsurprisingly, rich and developed nations did not have the same problem.

Of course, Europol claims vaguely that at least one suspicious match occurred in England. Did they reveal any details like club names? No. Were any arrests made? None listed. So, out of 680 suspicious matches, one may have occurred in England. Wow. That qualitative “maybe” really makes up for the quantitative deception in the headline.

The only aspect of this story that interests me is the snitch, as in, the guy who ratted out the alleged Singaporean mastermind. The nark was Wilson Raj Perumal. How did he get caught? Well, after fixing matches in several continents, he was the guy behind the fake Togo squad friendly. He got caught and prosecuted. Unlike his co-conspirator, former Togo coach Bana Tchanile, he got more than a three year ban from soccer.

Now, he’s spilling the beans. And I’m happy. Match-fixing exists, it’s a scourge, and it should be prosecuted, but vague pressers and bold proclamations reveal trigger-happy prosecutors, not actual progress. The headline mill may run rampant, but, in reality, unusual Asian betting patterns are pretty low on these countries’ laundry lists of problems. Murder. Child malnutrition. Human trafficking. I get the feeling the cops have better things to do than worry about money gambled on guys kicking balls.

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