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Germany’s thrashing of Brazil this week is surely the most shocking result from the FIFA World Cup thus far. But a different lopsided result from earlier in the tournament — Croatia’s 4-0 dismantling of Cameroon in group play — has cast light on a persistent problem in global soccer: allegations of widespread match-fixing. Kojo explores the hundred billion dollar soccer gambling economy, and ongoing concerns about the integrity of the Beautiful Game.
- Declan Hill Author, "The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime" (Random House) and "The Insider's Guide to Match Fixing in Football" (Anne McDermid & Associates)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, advertisers embrace social activism. Why Madison Avenue is embracing, some would say co-opting, feminist and gay-rights slogans. But, first, match-fixing in global soccer. The World Cup final is now set. On Sunday, Germany and Argentina will square off at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro for soccer's iconic golden statue. Thus far, the most shocking result from the month-long tournament to date is surely Germany's 7-1 thrashing of host Brazil.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut a different, slightly less crooked result, has raised eyebrows in soccer's governing body and sports media. A German newspaper has alleged that a notorious convicted match fixer might have influenced the results in an earlier match between Croatia and Cameroon. While those allegations are hotly disputed, they have brought a spotlight to the shadowy world of illegal gambling and match-fixing. And joining us to talk about that is Declan Hill. He is author of the book, "The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime." He joins us by phone from Toronto. Declan Hill, thank you for joining us.
MR. DECLAN HILLThanks for having me on, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. How would match-fixing allegations change the way you think about your favorite sport? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Declan, conservative estimates say there's been $100 billion bet on this year's World Cup alone. Some estimate it at as much as half a trillion dollars. To give a sense of scale, that hundred-billion number is more than four times the amount spent on World Cup planning, stadiums, marketing and advertising combined. How much of this industry is regulated and how much is unregulated?
HILLKojo, let me start our interview by warning our listeners. This is truly the most shocking scandal in sports today. In fact, there's actually two extraordinary scandals. And many of our listeners, as you and I speak over the next few minutes, are going to just find what I'm about to say absolutely unbelievable. So I ask people, you know, if there's any moments during our conversation where they think, this Canadian journalist, this Canadian author cannot be speaking the truth. This must be some kind of weird conspiracy theory.
HILLI beg you, listeners, please check what I'm saying online and you will find that every syllable of what I'm saying is absolutely true. It is an extraordinary story.
NNAMDIIt is also the first time I have ever begun an interview like this. But go ahead, please.
HILLIt's an extraordinary story, Kojo. Essentially what we're talking about here, just to give our listeners some background, is that there has been a group of match fixers based in Singapore and Malaysia, with a few of their associates in Indonesia and Thailand, that have travelled around the world for the last 20 years fixing major sports tournaments. That includes tennis. That includes cricket. But specifically, they have been targeting soccer. They've been coming to the Under 17 World Cup, the Under 20 World Cup, the Women's World Cup, the Olympic tournaments for soccer and the World Cup itself.
HILLAnd, now, when I make that statement, listeners, you should know that I infiltrated the gang when I was doing my PhD research in Singapore and Malaysia. I wore hidden cameras and I -- recording devices -- and I saw these guys at work. Then I, you know, just to confirm and corroborate, I went and interviewed players, officials -- including Sepp Blatter, who is the man who organizes all of the world of soccer. He's the head of an organization called FIFA, which loosely speaking is like the Vatican of world soccer.
HILLAnd then he confirmed -- all these other people confirmed and corroborated that these guys had been at these big international soccer tournaments for the last 20 years. Again, to put a limit here, we're not talking about every single game at these big soccer tournaments being fixed. We're not talking about the majority. But there's no question that these international soccer tournaments have a major threat to their integrity and the credibility of their product.
NNAMDIAnd what we're talking about here, allow me to remind our listeners, is gambling and soccer. We're talking with Declan Hill. He's the author of the book, "The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime." And we're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Declan, as I noted at the top, the Germany-Brazil match was the most shocking...
HILLNot a fix. Not -- not a fix. And I -- my inbox was full, my email was full. And this is really a problem. That was not a fix. That was simply the end of an era, the end of a 60-year era, very much like up here in Canada where we pride ourselves for being the world's best hockey players. In the early seventies, we were thrashed by the Soviets. And it was kind of a significant wake-up call for all Canadians, you know, with hockey.
HILL...living on past glory. That's what happened to the Brazilians. And soccer players will say, you know, rationally, looking at the game, it was just the Germans were better.
HILLThey were technically better than the Brazilians. So there wasn't a fix. The problem is, however, because of the presence of these match fixes -- there's a number of other phenomenon that we'll get to later in the interview -- the credibility of international soccer is now on a knife edge. So when people see such shocks, such surprises, many people say, well that can't be happening. This must be a fix. There must be something wrong. There must be some conspiracy. And in the Brazil-Germany game, it was absolutely legitimate. It was just a case of one team thrashing another.
NNAMDIBut the 4-nil result from the Croatia-Cameroon game could be more impactful than the Brazil-Germany game if allegations…
NNAMDI...from the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, are verified. The paper claims that a notorious match fixer correctly predicted the final score before the game was played and correctly predicted that a Cameroonian player would be sent off. You have written about this individual. Who is he? And why would these claims be so significant?
HILLWell, he was an associate and what is known as a runner for this match-fixing gang for a number of years. His name is Wilson Rush Raj Perumal. He was arrested and convicted in Finland and then again in Hungary for match-fixing. He's also been convicted in Singapore of match-fixing. And in a New York Times exposé that I did with Jeré a couple of weeks ago, we showed that he and the gang had entered the South African soccer association weeks before the start of the last World Cup in 2010 and with the help of an unnamed South African soccer official had helped to appoint the referees, who were corrupt as well, to various pre-World Cup matches.
HILLAnd when I say pre-World Cup, I mean literally days before the last tournament kicked off. Then he and his colleagues stayed in South Africa during the World Cup, tried to approach players and referees at that time. So he's now under a kind of weird detention in Budapest. And he had this online exchange with a Der Spiegel journalist. Tying to the weirdness, he's since pulled back the claims of Der Spiegel. But really the point for me is not Wilson Raj Perumal. The point is that the Cameroonian players, like many teams of the World Cup, weren't certain if they were going to get paid.
HILLAnd this is -- for American listeners, this is like 1919 Chicago Major League Baseball. It goes back almost 100 years. You have a world event -- a massive sporting tournament. And there are players playing in this year's World Cup, in 2014, who aren't sure they're going to get paid. And this is outrageous. I mean this is just ridiculous that there would be players...
NNAMDICameroon, Ghana, Nigeria have all been mentioned as possible offenders.
NNAMDIWhy do African soccer teams keep coming up in the match-fixing conversation? Why is it that the African players have so much trouble getting paid? Or some of them.
HILLBecause African soccer officials are corrupt. And if you want a symbolic gesture of all that is wrong with Africa, you cannot look better than African soccer. You have immensely talented athletes. The African soccer players are, in my opinion, the best players in the world. They are an extraordinary range of, you know, technical ability. Their coaches, who train them without computers, without any of the modern gauges and guises and all this kind of stuff are superb. But they are held back by some of the most venal, corrupt, loathsome individuals that you can possibly find in modern-day sport.
NNAMDIBefore the start of the World Cup, you wrote a long investigative article in the New York Times that highlighted how match-fixing could impact the World Cup, if not directly on the pitch, then by at least bringing the integrity of the results into question. How did match-fixing become such a big problem?
HILLThere's one factor which is really driving this, and it's the globalization of the sports gambling industry. The same thing that we've seen in globalization of anything, news media, you know, whatever, take your pick, in the last 10, 15 years, has occurred in sports gambling. So what's happened is that 70 to 80 percent of that market -- and its massive, hundreds of billions of dollars a year, industry -- is located in Asia. They are fascinated with soccer. They've corrupted most of their local soccer leagues. There are a couple of honorable exceptions, but they really are exceptions. And now that liquidity in that globalized sports gambling market is flowing around the world.
HILLSo there are fixed matches in a third-tier kind of semi-amateur league here in Canada. I mean, you know, these are games watched by a couple hundred guys, some of whom are walking their dogs in the park. I mean, that's how obscure these games are. But they're being fixed, because of this flood of money on the gambling market. There are bets on the women's second-division league in the Netherlands. There are fixed games in Finland in their second division. I mean, there's just this massive flow of cash now on these really obscure games, you know, obscure leagues in obscure countries that are just attracting it.
NNAMDIHere is Joe on the phone in Richmond, Va. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEYeah. I don't know why it seems like a such a surprise that, you know, soccer's got a lot of fixed matches in it. I mean, you can go throughout any number of different fields. You know, probably the most glaring is, look at the banking crisis. That was nothing but a financial version of the fixed soccer matches that's being made reference to. You know? It was enough money being gambled on nothing. And our government was the enabler of it. And as far as the Asians, the Pacific-Rim countries being involved in it, all you got to do is read a little bit about Asian history. We can go down the list, Burma, Vietnam.
JOEVietnam's currently -- they had a guest on another show about the corruption in hacking, computer hacking, you know? I mean it just goes on and on and on. It's no surprise to me. People need to kind of get their head out of the sand and, you know, the old saying -- follow the money trail. Do you want to find corruption? Follow the money trail.
NNAMDIDeclan Hill, care to comment?
HILLYeah. I think, Jerry, you're absolutely right. And I think, the point that I took out of that banking crisis was gambling. You know, these were gamblers dressed up in suits and ties. But it was the same philosophy. And I'm an expert, as you may know, Jerry, in organized crime. And what stunned me as I did this research was the powerful cash machine that gambling is to organized crime. You know, most people think of drugs, they think of those kind of big violent type activities. But sports gambling and the mob -- be it in the United States, be it anywhere in the world -- it's a massive, massive cash generator for them.
NNAMDIWe're using a lot of broad terms here about corruption in African soccer. We're really talking about soccer that's being played by 50-plus countries. We're talking about corruption in Asia and specifying Southeast Asia. Is there a way that we can try to break down where this corruption really stems from and the countries that it effects most, Declan?
HILLListen, Kojo, that's why I began this -- our interview by asking our listeners if there's anything that current concern them (unintelligible) to check online. And in terms of African soccer, I don't like saying this. You know, I've been to Africa a number of times. I specifically ended my first book looking at a women's league being played in one of the slums of Nairobi, Mathare.
HILLI spent time with the girls there. They've developed their own soccer league. It's a superb example of ingenuity and creativity. However, African soccer officials in general at the national level are despotic, they're corrupt. And I'm afraid at this moment, I'm really -- difficult to think of a country that's exceptional in Africa. And I invite African listeners, if there's anybody, you know, listening to volunteer a good well-run African soccer association. I just can't think at the top of my head of one.
NNAMDII know we've had similar problems in the English-speaking Caribbean. I can go there also. Let's talk...
HILLAnd, by the way -- excuse me -- you know, because I understand I'm treading on politically incorrect waters here. My own country Canada has a dreadfully incompetent, underperforming soccer association. I don't think they're corrupt in any way but they are really just a dreadful bunch of losers. So I'm not -- you know, I know as a Canadian I'm standing in a very -- in a glass house when I say this...
NNAMDIWell, let's broaden the discussion even more, because we got an email from Nina who says, "I'm a soccer fan and I love watching and playing soccer. My son played professionally in England and Sweden for a brief period of time. I have long believed that FIFA is a corrupt organization. How did FIFA get to be the Vatican of soccer and is there a movement to get rid of it?"
HILLUnfortunately -- I mean, this is a whole other can of worms. And again, for the listeners that don't know, it's a rough analogy, and I don't mean to be offensive in any way, but in the same way the Catholic Church is run by the papacy and the Vatican and then there's a hierarchy of, you know, cardinals for each country or region. And then it goes down to the local thing.
HILLThe same model applies for FIFA, the world's soccer organization. And I had an interview with Sepp Blatter, you know, the roughly equivalent -- the pope of soccer. And he began our interview by saying, ah, Dr. Hill, you want to talk to me about these Asian match fixes. I have known about them for the last 20 years, which of course begs the question, well, if you knew about them why haven't you done anything about them?
NNAMDIIndeed, soccer being the most popular game in the world, a lot of people feel that match fixing is a huge threat to its integrity. What are some possible solutions to get rid of the corruption?
HILLWell, I think it's extraordinarily easy to get rid of any questions of credibility and integrity in the World Cup. The World Cup's only 64 games watched by billions of people generates, as you said, billions of dollars in cash. And the solution is simple. It's exactly what major league baseball has done gradually over the years. And that's pay their athletes. You know, it's ridiculous that a Cameroonian or a Honduran or a Costa Rican or a Ghanaian or a Nigerian or any of those teams -- and I'm not suggesting they were fixing -- I'm just saying that they've had problems getting their money.
HILLYou know, every player who plays in the world's biggest sporting tournament should have a minimum salary delivered directly to their accounts. After playing these big huge matches, they should know that their children's health care is taken care of for the next 20 years. These are big matches and they generate cash and we should pay the players a lot of money. And we should pay them, you know, great bonuses for every time they score a goal or do a shutout or whatever. And that would take care of much of these questions of integrity.
NNAMDIGot to ask this. How does this process actually work? What does one do if one wants to fix a match?
HILLKojo, are you asking for career advice?
HILLIs this -- no, no, Kojo. We have to stop. Listen, it's the globalization of crime. What happens is the Asian match fixes, the syndicate that I was speaking about at the beginning, they fix this large global sports gambling market. They disguise the bets in the same way Jerry was talking about earlier -- our caller Jerry was talking about, you know, the finance guys. They're like the finance guys. They hide the corruption that's happening and they make a fraudulent batch to bookmakers.
HILLLocally the local criminals fix the game so they know the dubious referees or the corrupt soccer players. Or even in some cases like Italy and Turkey, the corrupt team owners. And so what some team owners do in those leagues is they look at their season and they'll say, okay we're due to play 40 games. We're going to try our best to win these 30 and we'll lose these 10 games. But because they know they're going to lose those ten games because they bet against their own team on those games, they'll win more money by losing those ten games than they will the rest of the season. So they fix the game and then they contact the syndicate in Asia. And the Asian guys put the bets on the Asian betting market.
NNAMDIIf this is happening in soccer, could we see it happening in other sports as well? Is there match fixing in popular American sports like baseball, football, NHL?
HILLI guard my credibility very closely. This is, as I said, an extraordinary story. There have been fixed matches. I write about them -- in the World Cup. I write about them in my books. I don't want to say anything about sports that I don't know. So I don't know. I've never done any serious investigative work at the North American sports.
HILLI will say the one sport that's taken serious steps, it has a major problem about it because it's the easiest sport in the world to fix. And that of course is ATP tennis. Tennis is just the easiest sport. It's two individuals playing. You don't even have to take a punch like in boxing, which of course has had a long history of this kind of stuff. So tennis has had a problem. They've admitted it and they're really trying to do something about it.
NNAMDIDeclan Hill is author of the book "The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime." He joined us by phone from Toronto. Declan, thank you so much for joining us.
HILLKojo, thank you very much for the serious discussion. I very much appreciate it.
NNAMDIYou're welcome. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, advertisers embrace social activism. Why Madison Avenue is embracing some would say co-optic feminist and gay rights slogans. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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