WASHINGTON, D.C., February 5, 2013 — Soccer fans will turn their attention to World Cup qualifying games and other international matches on Wednesday, but only after the soccer world was stunned by Europols’s revelation on Monday of massive match-fixing.
Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, has been investigating suspect games across the globe for 18 months, which also involved major tournaments, including the World Cup and the UEFA Champions League.
FIFA, soccer’s governing body, will be glad that the World Cup qualifying and England’s game against Brazil to celebrate the Football Association’s 150th year on Wednesday will distract from Europol’s blistering investigation.
The investigation, code-named Operation Veto, studied games played in Germany, Finland and Hungary and then extended the investigation into Austria and Slovenia. The probe looked at 680 games in over 30 countries and a total of 425 suspects were identified. Over fifty people have been arrested and 80 search warrants obtained. Europol officials warned that this was just the “tip of the iceberg.”
The Associated Press on Tuesday reported that a Singaporean businessman known as Dan Tan has been placed on Italy’s wanted list having been implicated in Europol’s investigation.
The game-fixing involved gang-members being contacted in certain countries by organized crime syndicates in Singapore and other Asian countries. Those accomplices would contact corrupt officials or players, who were willing to throw games for payment.
Bets would then be made with bookkeepers in Asia. Most of the games involved were played in the lower divisions of European soccer. The most notable match so far to be dragged into the investigation was Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Hungarian club Debrecen VSC in the UEFA Champions League Group stage in 2009.
It was reported that Debrecen’s goalie was allegedly paid to ensure that there were more than two goals scored in the game. Obviously he failed.
“This is a sad day for European football,” Europol Director Rob Wainwright told the media. He noted that criminals were cashing in on match-fixing “on a scale and in a way that threatens the very fabric of the game.”
The report stated that the targeted betting groups made around $10.7 million after paying out $2.7 million to corrupt players and match officials.
Danny Dichio, a former English player, speaking on Fox Soccer News on Monday night, said that such illegal practices “went on all the time.” He said that players competing in the lower divisions were tempted by such offers because they see players on the top teams earning such big salaries.
While he was playing in England, Dichio said he knew of players betting on such things as when the ball would first go out of play in games to earn a little extra “drink money.”
John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.
Follow John on Twitter at @Johnahaydon
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