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The art of fixing a football match

By Declan Hill, for CNN
February 19, 2013 -- Updated 1403 GMT (2203 HKT)
FIFA says it needs help from outside football to eradicate the problem of match-fixing.
FIFA says it needs help from outside football to eradicate the problem of match-fixing.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Shanghai Shenhua stripped of 2003 and fined
  • 33 people handed life bans including four former Chinese internationals
  • Evidence of match-fixing found in two European Champions League matches, says Europol
  • 680 games including World Cup and European Championship qualifiers deemed suspicious

(CNN) -- In all the toing and froing that we have seen in recent weeks surrounding match-fixing -- the Europol press conference that announced more than 680 suspicious football matches worldwide and the banning of 33 players and officials for life in China -- one question has been largely overlooked: just how do you actually fix a football game?

After all, football is not a sport like cricket with stops and starts. It's a team game with an ebb and flow that should make it very difficult to fix.

But according to the European police investigators, the fixers and dodgy sporting people were able to successfully manipulate hundreds of games -- so how did they actually arrange these corrupted matches?

In essence, there are three ways and the first is the old stand-by of a dodgy referee.

There have always been officials who are willing to corrupt matches. I showed in my book "The Fix: Soccer & Organized Crime," that there is a long tradition in some countries of clubs providing referees with sexual bribes before matches: good-looking young women who suddenly found the men in black irresistibly attractive.

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The next morning, club officials would drop a gentle word about '"ocal hospitality" and the official, who was often married, knew that they had to provide a "well-refereed" match for the host team.

The problem with that method is that it is very difficult for referees to deliver a fixed match. They can give away needless penalties and red cards, but in the end their capacity to actually affect a match is limited.

Read: Match-fixing threatens 'integrity of football in Europe'

A second method is gathering four or five players in a team to throw a match.

The advantage to this scam is that it actually makes identifying a fix very difficult for a spectator. You have six players running around trying as hard as they can; and you have five players pretending to run around trying as hard as they can.

This way an outsider finds it extraordinarily difficult to figure out what is going on. All they see is 11 players who may or may not be making mistakes honestly. All of whom are swearing and cursing the moment anything goes wrong. Who is on the fix or even if there is a fix occurring is very difficult to tell.

The most pernicious method, and most effective, is when a fixer can get a club owner to fix matches.

The Europol investigators spoke about this during their conference. There are dodgy club owners in Europe who will begin a season by looking at the 40 or so games in the league, and think, "Right we will try to win these 30 matches, and we will lose these 10."

Read: FIFA official Jerome Valcke: 'Match-fixing is a soccer disease'

Morally it is a terrible thing to do.

Financially, however, it makes excellent sense. Knowing that they will lose those specific 10 matches, the club owners will bet against their team and make more money losing those matches, then in winning all the other games.

Last year FIFPro, the umbrella group of professional footballers' unions, conducted a survey where they spoke to over 3,000 European players about their working conditions and the possibility of corruption in the sport.

The results were so shocking that FIFPro entitled the results of their survey "The Black Book of Football." In the report, players spoke frequently of intimidation and threats to ensure that entire teams fixed matches. And that intimidation was often coming from the owners of the teams.

If corruption exists at a club, it makes it very easy to fix a match. A club owner simply has to walk into a dressing room and say, "Right, lads. Today, you will lose the match. If you do not lose you will not get your salary for the last few months."

Read: China punishes match-fixers

In those cases, all the players have to do is make sure the spectators do not notice and they have a successful fix.

All this is not to say that every game is fixed.

The situation is far better in Europe then Asia. In that continent, there are entire leagues like - the Chinese and South Korean -- that have had to be shut down for months while mass arrests were conducted before the sports could continue.

It is to say, though, that unless serious measures are taken the world's game will be very, very badly affected.

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