6 Aug 2012

Alleged World Cup match corruption

Fifa’s former head of security tells Channel 4 News that a World Cup match has been under active investigation and that corruption is so widespread it’s affecting football around the globe.

Speaking to Channel 4 News in his first in-depth interview since leaving football’s governing body, Chris Eaton, Fifa’s former head of security, outlines a successful and highly organised match-fixing network, based mainly in south east Asia, whose tentacles reach into almost every aspect of the game and which has corrupted everyone from players through to officials.

The former Australian policeman joined Fifa from Interpol just before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as a security consultant. But as the tournament progressed, his job gradually morphed from that of player and stadium security to protecting the integrity of the matches themselves.

Eaton is the first to admit his knowledge of the global game was poor, but over the next two years he evolved into possibly the world’s foremost expert on the structure of match-fixing: who is involved, how they corrupt players, and what’s at stake.

One trillion euro business

The driving force of the corruption is the vast gambling market in the far east.

Hundreds of football matches – anything from internationals to youth games – are listed on gambling websites every day. And that’s just the legitimate companies. Add in the unregulated bookies and the total market, according to Eaton, stands at a jaw-dropping five hundred to a thousand billion (one trillion) euros a year.

With this sort of money in play, it is all too tempting for organised criminals in the far east not to get involved. Compared with drug dealing say, the risks are relatively low and the rewards massive: fix the result of a high-profile international and you can expect a profit of around $100m. Significant sums can also be achieved by “spot-fixing” individual events within a game, for example the time of the first throw in or whether there will be a sending off.

“There are bookmakers who don’t take the risk, and there are bookmakers who take the risk,” says Eaton. “They are not too concerned of the retrospective investigation or of protection.”

Long-term relationships

But they cannot operate alone. They rely on global corruptors or middle-men further down the chain who can approach vulnerable players or officials – usually those who are yet to earn big sums from the game or are approaching the end of their careers.

“We’re not now talking about one off corruptions for a particular game, we’re talking about long term relationships. Criminals attract young players at junior competitions. It can start with a pair of shoes. They will offer the player a good pair of playing shoes; they will ask where their parents are and offer mum and dad: ‘I can help your son develop his football. I will send him to a training school,’ (a training school operated by criminals). So there is a long-term financial commitment by these criminal organisations.”

But if cash incentives hook the players in, it can be threats further down the line that prevent them from straying.

Eaton tells the story of one convicted fixer, a Singaporean called Wilson Perumal, caught on surveillance video threatening a player in a Finnish league. In that case it was just a slap but threats backed up with baseball bats and guns are not uncommon.

World Cup investigation

Before Eaton left Fifa, his unit was in the midst of an investigation into a 2010 World Cup group game between Nigeria and Greece. This is the first time such a high level game has been the subject of a confirmed investigation.

The incident in question is the red card awarded to Nigerian player Sani Kaita in the 33rd minute of the match. Eaton suspects this foul may have been pre-arranged with a fixer to enable them to bet on when it would take place – a form of spot-fixing.

“It’s a manifestation of, potentially anyway, a manifestation of an attempt at a fraud that is, is unique…and perhaps to be replicated in the future, so we have to be cautious about it.”

Eaton is reluctant to talk further about the incident now that he’s left as he thinks the investigation is ongoing.

Channel 4 News contacted Kaita’s agent in attempt to get his reponse to the allegations, but we received no reply.

Fifa denied there was an official investigation into the match but said such matters were the responsibility of its security unit.

Chris Eaton, FIFA's former head of security (Channel 4 News)

A global problem

With corruption emanating from the Far East and prosecutions on-going on the continent it might be tempting to rest easy that the game in this country is immune to the threat.

Eaton agrees that the premier league is unlikely to be tainted, but revealed that he has had an approach from a player in the Championship – alleging corruption in that league – in the last 12 months.

The Football League said in a statement “as a responsible competition organiser, we always treat any allegations of behaviour that could undermine the integrity of our matches with the utmost seriousness. However, we are not aware of any ongoing investigations by FIFA into allegations of this kind.”

Chris Eaton can’t comment further as, again, it’s an on-going investigation but more generally he sounds a note of caution for all leagues across the globe:

“All leagues are vulnerable because of the money involved. You cannot protect English football, for instance, just by looking at England. This is global football played on English soil. This is global footballers playing in England. This is global gambling on English outcomes. Most of the gambling is not in England, so you can’t live in blissful ignorance saying, it’s not affecting us directly. Indirectly it’s affecting you every minute of the day.”