“We were blue-eyed, when the scandal hit us in 2005,” an honest Petri Heikkinen, who worked for the Finnish Football Federation for almost 10 years, said.
From 2005 and 2011, Finnish football was severely hit by match-fixing. AC Allianssii, a now disolved club, were struggling financially in 2005. The club was overtaken by Zheyun Ye, who already had been fixing matches in Belgium.
Ye brought in his own manager and a team mostly consisting of Belgian players. They lost 8-0 to FC Haka, and then it all began.
Nobody knew how to handle the Match-Fixing scandal
Ye and others involved were never charged. Lack of knowledge is to blame.
“The police didn’t know how to handle this. The exchange of information with Belgium failed. It died out,” Heikkinen said.
Belgian authorities have also been criticised heavily for their part in the investigation.
“I can’t say it won’t happen again”
Since 2005 Finnish football has been hit by four major match-fixing scandals. Mostly clubs with financial trouble, Tampere, AC Alianssi and RoPa, have been targeted.
“We probably didn’t do enough,” Heikkinen said. “ We had to learn about the background of match-fixing. We know much more about it now.”
“I can’t say it won’t happen again. It’s happening all over the world. It will probably happen again or maybe it’s even happening at the moment.”
Former players, experts and other stakeholders have adressed the problem of match-fixing in football during the Play The Game conference, but we are yet to hear from the key part of a football match. The referee.
Peter Mikkelsen, a former international top referee named world’s best referee in 1991 and 1993 and member of FIFA’s referee committee, is happy that the referees aren’t present.
“It’s good, because it means match-fixing isn’t a big problem for us,” the Dane claims.
Referees don’t match-fix because the money isn’t big
In 2005 Robert Hoyzer, a german referee, was the center of a big match-fixing scandal. But that’s a quite rare situation, according to Mikkelsen.
“We don’t experience any problems with match-fixing and we don’t discuss it in FIFA, because it’s not a problem.”
“Of course we will act, if there’s a problem. The referees are not professional as the players are and they have civilian jobs. I think, that’s why we don’t see referees fixing matches,” says Mikkelsen.
The closest thing to match-fixing came in Portugal
Mikkelsen has never experienced match-fixing in the many, many games he refereed.
He does mention a situation in Portugal in a match between a local side and Tottenham Hotspur. The home team were putting Mikkelsen in situations that were ideal for a match-fixing referee.
“I was never approached or offered anything, but the Portuguese players dived a couple of times in the box and I waved away their protests. After the game the Tottenham manager told me, that I was a very honorable man.”
In February this year Europol and police teams from 13 countries blasted a bombshell over European football. A massive investigation uncovered attempts to fix more than 380 professional football matches with 425 officials, criminals and players involved from 15 countries.
Nick Garlick, Senior Specialist at Europol, told the Play The Game attendees, why an investigation like this hadn’t been conducted before.
“We had a unique opportunity. We were able to bring together so many, different authorities. We have not had this platform before and that is why such a big investigation was conducted now.”
Games at all levels can be hit by match-fixing
In the investigation games as high as in The Champions League were under suspicion of being fixed.
But it might as well have been in the 6th tier of the English League system. And in fact it was. In the recent case of Billericay Town, a club with a average attendance of 500, generated more bets in the Asian market than a FC Barcelona game.
“The standard of the game does not matter. Bets will be placed on anything,” Garlick said.
Nick Garlick (Europol) says 6th division English football matches are attracting bettors in Asia #PTG2013
“Remember. Players are the victims, not the criminals,” was the message from Wil van Megen, the legal director of FIFPro, the international organization for over 50.000 football players, during his presentation at Play The Game.
But why is that? A player has the power to say no to participate in match-fixing, one would thing, but that’s not the case, according to van Megen.
The case of Mario Cizmek, the Croatian footballer, who became a match-fixer after not being paid for 14 months, states the perfect example.
“They do have a choice. Although that’s only in theory. I can mention the case of Simone Farina, who did the right thing, and that was the end of his career. There are no mechanisms to help the players,” van Megen said.
The Italian football player Simone Farina went to the police in 2011 after being offered 200.000 euros to throw a game. He never played again.
Lack of payment causes match-fixing
“We can create safer environments for players. In The Netherlands there are strict rules of payment of players. There are no big problems there. Club must pay on time,” van Megen said.
In a FIFPro study, The Black Book, on match-fixing in Eastern Europe 41.4 procent of the 3.337 players, who participated, did not receive money on time.
55 procent of them were approached by match-fixers.
His two daughters were standing alone, watching their father being hauled away by police. He was being arrested on charges of match fixing and now he could tell his story.
Mario Cizmek had 16 year long football career mostly based in his native Croatia. Usually a player like him would remain unknown outside Croatia.
But Cizmek was convicted of fixing matches and is one of the rare cases of footballers openly talking about the matter.
Money woes was the starting point
The Croatian was playing for Croatia Seveste who had big financial trouble. The players hadn’t been paid for an astounding 14 months and Cizmeks debts were rising by the minute.
Cizmek and his fellow teammates were perfect targets for match fixing. Desperate and in the need of money, former assistant coach at Dinamo Zagreb, Vinko Saka, convinced several of the players to lose matches on purpose.
Saka would give loans to the money hungering players and then force them into throwing matches in order to pay back their debt.
Cizmek sentenced to jail and banned from football
The Croatian pleaded guilty of fixing six games and cooperated with the authorities. Of the 14 persons accused of match fixing Cizmek got longest sentence. 10 months in jail.
“Twenty years of hard work I destroyed in just one month,” Cizmek told Fox News in February.
Mario Cizmek will be speaking at the Play The Game conference in Aarhus on Monday the 28th of October.