Fifa must lead by example in fight against corruption

Written by Emma McClarkin on 5 December 2014 in Opinion
Opinion

Match fixing is an issue that needs to be dealt with from the top down, argues Emma McClarkin.

The concept of match fixing would have horrified those who, largely in the Victorian age, met to set the rules of modern sports. Fair play was an essential part of games which were seen not just as entertainment, but as vital to instilling moral fibre in their participants.

Nevertheless, nearly a century after the most notorious match fixing scandal in history, the throwing of the 1919 baseball world series by the Chicago White Sox, we are still far from ending the practice. As I write, for example, Greek football lies suspended following a series of scandals which have culminated in a brutal attack on a refereeing official.

It’s not difficult to see why, despite the risks involved, players agree to fix matches. Some games are less important to one team than for the other, particularly at the closing stages of a league when the result could mean relegation or promotion to one team, but not to the other.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that in general match fixing and gambling are highly linked. In recent years great players and teams, such as South African cricket’s Hansie Cronje and Italian football team Juventus, have been disgraced. Those are the ones we know about.

"The potential for tampering has increased now that a bet on even a small game in a small country can be placed by someone - or their syndicate - thousands of miles away"

In addition, as betting evolves to include such options as spread betting, spot markets and bets on throw ins (football) and no balls (cricket), it becomes easier for participants to believe that what they are fixing is innocuous. But it clearly is not, especially given that the potential for tampering has increased now that a bet on even a small game in a small country can be placed by someone - or their syndicate - thousands of miles away.

Now, clearly, much is being done to combat malpractice. Betting firms are far more adept at spotting suspicious behaviour. Laws are being tightened. Nobody who gets caught can expect to return to their sport, and young players are brought up to know that it is never acceptable to associate with illegal activity.

But it still happens, everywhere from sumo wrestling to the world’s most lucrative sport, football. In the long run I think the key to combating match fixing is to return as far as possible to the original culture. Not in the sense that we need to go back to the amateur game, but in the sense that all professional participants and administrators should adhere to the highest standards of honesty and transparency. And at the moment there is an unavoidable case that needs to be prioritised.

"The governing body of a sport must be clean, transparent and beyond reproach if it is to expect its participants to be honest and fair"

Fifa is, together with the international olympic committee (IOC), one of the two most powerful sporting bodies in the world. The IOC is not perfect. But compared to Fifa it has successfully avoided allegations of corruption.

Fifa’s recent troubles, notably the widespread suspicion that the 2022 world cup was bought by Qatar - a ludicrous place to hold a world cup - may seem not to have much connection to the question of match fixing, which it is not specifically accused of aiding.

But, as the saying goes, a fish rots from the head down, and the governing body of a sport must be clean, transparent and beyond reproach if it is to expect its participants to be honest and fair. But we have got to the stage where virtually nobody beyond a small clique has full trust and faith in its leadership. Fifa desperately needs to be reformed.

It is hard to see how a governing body which cannot see what is wrong with its own rotten practices can be equipped to take on the wider issue of corruption.

Fifa’s reform won’t stop match fixing, even in football. But if we clean up the top, we can expect higher standards below. A reformed, transparent Fifa is something I and a number of my colleagues will be campaigning for during the next parliament and I will be organising an event to publicise the need for this early in 2015. It’s an ambitious goal, but I strongly believe that its time has come.

 

About the author

Emma McClarkin is a member of parliament’s international trade committee

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