FIFA's Match-Fixing Investigation Staff Is Just Six People

FIFA, soccer's world governing body, has long struggled to police match-fixing, either because there's not much it can do, or because there's not much it wants to do. In the first part of a two-part series, The New York Times investigated allegations of match-fixing during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and uncovered some pretty damning stuff, not the least of which is that there were just five people (which has since been beefed up to six) responsible for investigating cases.

The Times report, based on FIFA's unpublished internal report of its own investigation, details a clever scheme carried out by a "notorious match-fixing syndicate," wherein a front company—Football 4U International—was used to infiltrate South African soccer, aided by South African soccer officials, to appoint referees who were on the take to officiate matches.

Specifically, a since-retired referee, Ibrahim Chaibou, reportedly received upwards of $100,000 to fix matches in the lead up to the World Cup. Football 4U International preys on the financially insecure soccer federations worldwide, offering to provide referees—and pay for their lodging and travel—to officiate matches. Whether through sheer haplessness, or more seedy reasons—FIFA couldn't determine—Football 4U was also able to get South African soccer officials to allow it to appoint referees for specific matches, something only national federations can do. Unsurprisingly, these matches often had curious refereeing.

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On the same day of a match between South Africa and Guatemala, Chaibou deposited "a 'quite thick' wad" of cash with a bank, and received some Nelson Mandela coins as a gift for depositing such a large amount. He then headed back to the stadium, where he was swapped in at the last minute to officiate.

The questionable calls began early. In the 12th minute, South Africa scored on a penalty kick after a Guatemalan defender was called for a hand ball even though he was clearly outside the penalty area.

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In the 50th minute, Guatemala was awarded a suspicious penalty kick for a hand ball, even though a South African defender stopped a shot in front of the goal with his chest, not his arm.

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In the 56th minute, another debatable penalty kick was awarded to South Africa, which resulted in the team's fourth goal in a 5-0 rout.

The FIFA report stated plainly that "we can conclude that this match was indeed manipulated for betting fraud purposes."

The whole report is chock full of corruption, even death threats, but what's troubling from a prevention standpoint is that FIFA did not even investigate the claims for two years and, when it finally got around to it, didn't even interview a single referee or team involved in any of these matches.

And what about that investigative staff?

At the time, FIFA's investigative staff amounted to five people responsible for examining dozens of international match-fixing cases, he said. The group has no subpoena power or law enforcement authority.

Investigators spent only three days in South Africa and never interviewed the referees or the teams involved, the report said. An unsuccessful attempt was made to interview Mr. Chaibou at the time, according to [author of the internal FIFA report] Mr. [Terry] Steans.

The six-man unit has essentially no real authority to do anything, so it's hard to ask them to get much in the first place, but two years? And did they even try to talk to Chaibou?

"We never got to speak to the referees, which was sad," said Mr. Steans, who operates his own sports security firm. "It would have tied up a lot of loose ends. I'm sure they would have given us some relevant information."

FIFA only investigates active referees, so once Chaibou reached the mandatory retirement age of 45 in 2011, he was off the radar. Bummer, right?

The delay works for everyone, though. FIFA can say it looked into it and while there's clearly evidence of fraud, it can't do anything about it. And the South African officials can attack the report as some kind of ill-timed, cover-your-ass witch hunt. Which they obviously did! Let's hear from then chief executive of the South African soccer federation, Leslie Sedibe.

Mr. Sedibe, then the chief executive of the South African soccer federation, shrugged off the report as a politically motivated witch hunt. "Why is it taking so long to get to the bottom of this?" he said. "Why not refer this matter to the police to investigate and bring closure to it?"

Yeah, maybe the police can rustle up seven people to look into this stuff.

Fixed Matches Cast Shadow Over World Cup [NYT]