Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Match fixing: FIFA's shame

The bizarre calls of Norwegian referee Christina Pederson in yesterday's women's soccer match between Canada and the USA has shone the light on one of FIFA's continuing problems: match fixing.

Now this likely is not a case of fixing. Pederson was likely just over her head during what was a uniquely fast-paced and high scoring match. Still, missing a handball committed by a U.S. player near her box, calling a rarely-used 6 second rule without prior warning on goalie Erin McLeod then allowing a do-over for that kick due to what appeared to be an unintentional handball are at the very least strange enough to allow for the perception that something might have been up.

If you don't follow international football you may not be aware that the issue of controversial calls and other skulduggery throwing the outcomes of matches has dogged the sport all summer long.

In May, a years-old scandal involving Italy's top league reignited with allegations that include car crashes and drugging of players. Nineteen players and coaches are under investigation.

Over the summer, ironically, Norway found itself in the midst of a couple of match fixing investigations. One involved national second division team Follo in which four players were arrested. A first division match was later suspended due to "suspicious betting activity." Weeks later Norway's federation itself contacted FIFA to investigate suspicions about another match in a Europa League qualifier.

The highest profile and most troubling allegations came just a couple of days ago when a former FIFA security official alleged that the federation has investigated questionable calls in games not from a back-woods regional tournament or even a national soccer league but from its premiere sports event: the World Cup.

Source: CONCACAF.com

Soccer federations are trying to get a handle on things.

In June 2012 FIFA participated in a "match fixing summit" hosted by the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES). FIFA wrote: "With both UEFA EURO 2012 and the London Olympics on the horizon this summer, everyone present outlined the threats to the integrity of sporting competitions."

Tomorrow, the CONCACAF and UNCAF federations along with INTERPOL kick off a FIFA-sponsored "integrity in sport" workshop in Guatemala.

Pederson's USA soccer jersey ;)

While FIFA has been quick to vow to investigate not the officiating, but negative comments made by Canadian players and officials after the game, they need to tread a bit lightly. As long as their house is in a mess they leave themselves open to such suspicions and derision by players, officials and fans alike.

Also see: Understanding the controversial call in the Globe and Mail

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