On the face of it seems very easy to find a solution for match fixing. Everyone agrees it is bad and if not controlled it will ruin sport – indeed in China it has all but destroyed Chinese domestic football. But having agreed how dreadful it is we run up against the problem that it is impossible to find a universal system to police it.
How difficult this can be was well illustrated when on Wednesday of this week a conference was held to discuss sport integrity. The location could not have been more ideal. It was in the mini-United Nations that exists along Lake Geneva, the city that once housed the old League of Nations and where many UN organisations still have their headquarters.
Nor could there be much argument that the conference brought together some very interesting speakers including the Pope’s representative in Geneva and the Acting Chief of the Italian Anti-Mafia Directorate. And just to make the Italian connection very clear the opening session even had Giulio Rapetti “Mogol”, an Italian music legend, saying how “beautiful” it was to see “all hugs and kisses the players exchange after a goal” and that “sport is the shelter for body and soul”. For good measure delegates were also given a CD of his songs, shades of Pavarotti singing during the 1994 World Cup. But then the Italians in the shape of Lega Italina Sport Professionistico were one of the conference’s sponsors along with the International Centre for Sport Security.
As was only to be expected both organisations had their own hymn sheets they wanted the world to be singing from. The Doha-based ICSS, partly funded by the Qatar government, is keen to show that not only does Qatar love sport but that Qatar is good for world sport. So good indeed that it wants to rid sport of its many scourges, none more so than match fixing. It is part of the overall Qatar message that even if a World Cup in summer heat may not be possible nobody should doubt the good intentions of the Qataris.
The Italian match fixing scandals are, of course, like Italian sporting operas that surface every twenty odd years, curiously just about the time that Italy win the World Cup. But at Geneva the Italians were eager to proclaim that not only had they cleaned up their act but could now show the world how to clean up their own grubby match fixing dens.
Indeed the Italians were so keen to tell us how well they had coped with the last scandal which saw Juventus demoted that Luca Tuirchi, Senior Executive, Italian State Monopole, even boasted that as far as match fixing was concerned he knew everything. “I can see what is happening in Italy, which sport is concerned, which region. What I cannot see is what is happening in the second Portuguese division.”
Why Tuirchi focussed on Portugal I do not know as that country has not featured much in match fixing tales. May be, like Sepp Blatter, he does not like Ronaldo’s hair style. However as Chris Eaton, the Australian policeman who has moved from FIFA to becoming Director Sport Integrity at ICCS, told me what Tuirchi was really saying was that he knew about the 30-40 % of legal bets that take place. What he does not know are the 60-70% of illegal bets, many of which originate in Singapore and other parts of south Asia.
And for all the self-satisfied talk of Tuirchi he did not seem to know what had happened to Simone Farina. He is the player who back in 2011 turned down an offer of €200,000 to influence the outcome of an Italian Cup match between Cesena and Gubbio. Instead he reported the matter to the police. It was this that resulted in the arrest of 17 people. As a reward he was asked to train for three days with the Italian national team and honoured by Blatter. He has since become a community coach with Aston Villa . For Tuirchi not to know where Farina was, let alone his present club, was strange for a man who claimed to know everything about Italian match fixing.
But in many ways more revealing was when Tuirchi admitted that for all his knowledge of the Italian betting market when he detects something he has to ask, “Whom am I going to tell?”
And that is the problem sport has in getting to grips with match fixing. There is no worldwide organisation which monitors it.
Now you could say much the same was said before 1999 when the World Anti-Doping Agency was set up. Then, as with betting now, much noise was made about doping in sport but nothing was done to control it. Indeed for many years, as is now admitted by those involved in sports organisations, bodies like the IOC and others turned a blind eye to doping hoping that the evil would just go away. The IOC was only forced to take notice following the 1998 Festina Tour de France doping scandal, which still marks the high water mark of doping in sport, and some injudicious comments by the then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.
What made the formation of WADA all the more remarkable was that it was done against the background of the Salt Lake City corruption scandal which nearly tore the IOC apart. The IOC was then considered such a defunct, worthless organisation, that government ministers, including Britain’s own Tony Banks, lined up to lambast them. It was in the teeth of this criticism the IOC went ahead and set up WADA and after years of struggle with governments it has now become a viable partnership between the state and sport. It is not perfect but it has done much to both monitor doping and catch cheats. The US had to be dragged into setting up its Anti Doping Agency. It was almost the last such government body set up reflecting the fact that the US government, unlike European ones, does not have a sports policy and lets sport get on unaided by government interference. But without the US Anti Doping Agency, Lance Armstrong would never have been unmasked.
The problem is it is impossible to see how we can form a WADA equivalent for match fixing. In many Islamic countries all betting is a violation of Islamic belief. In others like Singapore or India, reflecting their previous status as British colonies, the law on betting has remained frozen since the colonial times. This means that, as it was in Britain until 1960, the only legal form of betting is on a race track. The result is that what is legitimate betting in Britain and other countries is illegal and ideal territory for criminal gangs to flourish.
Eaton is confident that this should not be a bar. His argument is that in many countries derivative, currency or even share trading is not allowed yet there are regulations which chime in with worldwide regulations. But then business in general has moved on since the days when corruption was accepted, even encouraged. It has not stopped business fraud but a worldwide system of governance is now accepted. Sport is yet to do that. And governments are yet to appreciate how big the business of sport is and why we need worldwide regulation.
The Geneva conference was meant to be part of the educational process. That is certainly the hope of Mohammed Hanzab, President of ICCS. How far conferences such as the one in Geneva can help is debatable. Politicians like the cheap publicity sport provides but there is not much political will to tackle the problems created by sport becoming a world business. Leaving Geneva I was unable to shake off the thought that the meeting held in the same place the day before the sport integrity conference, which discussed how to find peace in Syria, may yield quicker results than the conference on match fixing.
I would love to be proved wrong but I doubt if I will.
Mihir Bose was the first sports editor of the BBC. He has worked for various media outlets and launched the Inside Sport column for the Daily Telegraph. Now a freelance journalist he has written 28 books. His latest book: Game Changer: How the English Premier League Came to Dominate the World was published by Marshall Cavendish for £14.99. Follow Mihir on twitter @mihirbose