Skip to main content

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.

Jerome Valcke: Match-fixing a 'disease'
Eaton talks match fixing in January
380 football matches deemed suspicious
How to fix a soccer match

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.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
After 20 years, more than 300 goals and a host of major honors, Thierry Henry has called time on his glittering football career.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1014 GMT (1814 HKT)
They do things differently at Sociedad Deportiva Eibar, up in the mist-cloaked valleys of the Basque country. And it is working.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
He might be struggling to score goals for Liverpool, but Mario Balotelli's cheeky tweet about the British monarch hit the spot during the World Cup.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
How Real Madrid's new stadium will look
They splash the cash on the world's best players, now Real Madrid are giving the Bernabeu the same treatment with a bling makeover.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
Football world mourns South African captain Senzo Meyiwa who was shot and killed during a botched robbery in a township near Johannesburg.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1348 GMT (2148 HKT)
A man as a Roman centurion and who earn his living by posing with tourists gestures in front of the Colosseum during a protest where some of his colleagues climbed on the monument on April 12, 2012 in Rome. The costumed centurions are asking for the right to work there after they were banned following a decision by local authorities.
From the ancient ruins of Rome, a new empire rises. But the eyes of the city's newest gladiator light up at thoughts of the Colosseum.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1622 GMT (0022 HKT)
Once part of Germany's largest Jewish sports club, now he's the first ISIS suspect to stand trial in a country left shocked by his alleged radicalization.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1411 GMT (2211 HKT)
One goal in eight matches for new club Liverpool, and dumped by the Italian national team -- Mario Balotelli has yet to shine on his English return.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
Ched Evans smiles during the Wales training session ahead of their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against England on March 25, 2011 in Cardiff, Wales.
Should a convicted rapist, who has served their time in prison, be allowed to resume their old job? What if that job was as a high-profile football player?
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1247 GMT (2047 HKT)
After 10 years of golden glory, it's easy to see how Lionel Messi has taken his place among the football gods.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1034 GMT (1834 HKT)
A football fan wipes a tear after Inter Milan's Argentinian defender Javier Zanetti has greeted fans following the announcement of his retirement before the start of the Italian seria A football match Inter Milan vs Lazio, on May 10, 2014, in San Siro Stadium In Milan
When will the tears stop? A leading Italian football club is pursuing a new direction -- under the guidance of its new Indonesian owner.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Norwegian 15-year-old Martin Odegaard is the youngest player ever to feature in a European Championships qualifying match.
October 10, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
After revolutionizing cricket with its glitzy Twenty20 league, India has now thrown large sums of money at a new football venture.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Get ruthless. That is Rio Ferdinand's message to soccer's authorities in the fight to tackle the scourge of racism.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
A picture taken on May 16, 2014 shows 15-year-old Norwegian footballer Martin Oedegaard of club Stroemsgodset IF cheering during a match in Drammen, Norway. Oedegaard is set to become Norways youngest player ever in the national football team.
He's just 15 and the world is seemingly already at his feet. Norway's Martin Odegaard is being sought by Europe's top clubs.
ADVERTISEMENT