To fix a football match is considerably more simple than you may think. You may ask why a millionaire superstar player who earns over $100,000 per week would want to earn some relatively small-time cash for throwing a match, compromise the very integrity of the sport that has given him a professional career, and jeopardize his personal reputation and image. Oh, and let’s not forget the moral conundrum.
And you would be right.
But very few professional players are actually millionaire superstars. Most are modestly-paid journeymen plugging away at any club anywhere in the world that will offer them a contract for 12 months of a year (or more if they get a really good deal).
We don’t have to look to pirate leagues in Asia or South America to see the vast discrepancy in salaries for players. According to figures released by the league and player’s union, Los Angeles Galaxy, the top team in Major League Soccer, paid millionaire superstar David Beckham $3,999,999.96 in “guaranteed compensation” for the 2012 season.
Across the dressing room, teammate Juninho, a Brazilian midfielder who played 32 games in the Galaxy’s Championship-winning team last year, made $65,625. That’s good money but not millionaire superstar money.
Note to lawyers: this is not any any way suggesting Juninho is a match-fixer or has been exposed to match-fixing, etc, etc, but demonstrating where vulnerabilities can be exposed. Juninho plays for a top team in a well-managed league and appears to not have any need to make a quick and quiet buck on the side. But other players aren’t always as secure as the Brazilian in Los Angeles.
A match is fixed for one reason – to make money for people. Usually, a betting syndicate wants to influence the result of a match that people have placed bets on. If I am betting $500,000 that a terrible team in the Turkish Super Lig is going to lose I want to make sure that team actually does lose. So, lose, dammit. Who cares, who will notice, and who will know? A $100,000 investment on that bet is not much if the result goes the way I’ve paid for it and I win BIG.
Declan Hill wrote The Fix, a book about soccer and organized crime. In it, former mafia figures explain how vulnerable professional players actually can be.
“It is very easy to get a professional athlete to come ‘on side’,” said Michael Franzeze, the son of a former hitman and a capo in the Colombo family, a New York mafia group. “We would spend a lot of time trying to get these guys to do this. We would deliberately target them. Heck, a lot of the time they would come to us.”
“Athletes like to gamble. They are confident, aggressive, risk-takers,” Franzeze told Hill. “All the things that make them good athletes make them good gamblers. Once they got into trouble with us, we got them to do things for us.”
According to Hill there are two ways to approach players. The methods mirror the business strategies of lap dancers. One strategy is the quick buck, approach-as-many-men-as-possible and surely one will bite, approach. The other tactic is to build a pseudo-relationship with a customer and establish “counterfeit intimacy”. A customer who thinks the dancer is his girlfriend will spend more money on her, apparently.
There have been, you may (or may not) be surprised to know, academic studies on lap dancer’s approach their business. Both approaches appear to work – for someone selling a pseudo-sexual experience in a dark room and someone selling a football match. The common link is taking advantage of vulnerability – and lots of money.
“Where money flows, corruption often follows,” said Ralf Mutschke, FIFA’s head of Security, at an INTERPOL conference on match-fixing in Kuala Lumpur this week. It is equally true that corruption follows where money doesn’t necessarily flow, too.