One of the most dominating topcis of Play the Game 2013 in Aarhus, Denmark, have been match-fixing.
And thanks to the former Croatian Football player Mario Cizmek, the participants have been able to get an insider’s view on why some professional football players decide to enter the world of match-fixing.
Mario Cizmek did. In this exclusive and unedited video-interview, he tells his full story.
“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.”
Much has been said on the subject of match fixing the last few days of this year’s Play The Game conference.
But what seems to be the case is, that no one really has given much thought about the definition of match fixing.
That was until researcher Karen Jones from T.M.C Asser Instituut, Asser International Sports Law Centre, asked the question: How do you define match fixing?
Don’t invent it, define it
According to the Dutch speaker there is no universal definition of match fixing – only a lot of variations at national, European and international level.
And that is probably one of the key problems when working with legislating match fixing.
“You can’t effectively manage, what you can’t define. There’s no need to create something entirely new, we just need to define what’s already there” she stated, at Wednesdays session.
Seeking a common definition
International sports should be crying out for a common definition that can help public understanding support the national law development, and thereby contribute to harmonization. A common definition could be key in creating good governance in sports.
The lack of clear definition leads to cases, which leave sports ethics on a knifes edge.
Karen Jones herself named the NFL Bounty Scheme as one example of jeopardizing the ethics, and a scheme which according to some definitions could be considered match fixing.
The not so saintly Saints
Last year it was concluded that coaches of the NFL team New Orleans Saints would pay additional bonuses to players causing serious injury to members of the opposing team.
The fees were nominal when the players salary was taken into consideration, but it could be construed as incentive to alter the outcome of a match by injuring the opposing team.
“Under the national american plan it was perceived as match fixing, but according to the European Counsil it wasn’t,” she added.
Fenerbahce won the championship in 2011. They did that with an impressive winning streak, as 16 out of the last 17 games in the season were won.
But many people found that suspicious and police launched an investigation finding six clubs guilty of match-fixing.
Among the suspects was the president of Fenerbahce, Aziz Yildirim. He was sentenced to six years and three months of imprisonment, but he is still the president of Fenerbahce, while he is waiting for the outcome of an appeal
The Turkish Football Federation was run by Mehmet Ali Aydınlar. He is a former board member of Fenerbahce, and a well known passionate fan.
”I do not want to be remembered as the president who relegated Fenerbahce. People who question my love for Fenerbahce, did not serve the club as much as I did”, said Mehmet Ali Aydınlar shortly after he stepped down as president.
Now he is running for president of Fenerbahce.
The national team suffers
”The Turkish people now see football as a theatre. They think that everything is settled before the games” said Turkish journalist, Gamze Bal, at Play the Game in Aarhus.
Because of the involvement of members of The Turkish Football Federation, the national team feels the consequences of the scandal.
”When the national team plays, the stands are almost empty. People don’t even support the team, because the Turkish Football Federation is run by corrupted figures”, says Gamze Bal.
In the last few days at the Play the Game conference it has been well confirmed, that match-fixing is indeed a problem locally, nationally and internationally.
A lot of solutions to dealing with match-fixing via both disciplinary action and criminal law has been suggested.
But who will protect the interests of the athletes if the hunt for match-fixers turn into a witch hunt, and someone unjustly takes the fall?
Life or six months
Speaker Katarina Pijetlovic presented an interesting case of recent match-fixing cases in tennis, where high profile players, including Daniel Köllerer, was sentenced to lifetime bans and large fines by the Tennis Integrity Unit, on the basis of very little evidence.
It was one man’s word against another – the accused against the accuser.
Players suspected of similar crimes, who confessed, was sentenced much more leniently with bans of only six months and fines of 3000 dollars. Making it the more appealing choice, to actually admit to match-fixing – guilty or not.
Void and null
The agreement the players have to sign is legally void, because none of the terms has been negotiated with the affected players before they sign.
“The wawer the players has to sign to play professionally takes away their right of appeal, and by signing it, they agree that they can be charged with crimes based on a low standard of evidence,” Katarina Pijetlovic explained.
None the less, the players have to sign the agreement and follow its rules, because they have no other choice, if they want to be a part of the pro-leagues.
During his speeches at Play the Game, Harri Syväsalmi, Director of Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland, has explained that shining a light on match-fixing is an important factor towards fixing the issue.
”What we need to do is to raise awareness. We are fighting criminal organisations, and we should act accordingly,” he stated.
Awareness is a succes
Senior specialist Nick Garlick of Europol concurs, and explained that investigations serves a bigger purpose in the fight than singular convictions of athletes and criminals.
“We need greater awareness, and the biggest success of the recent investigations is the greater awareness of the issue”.
Make it easier for the whistleblowers
Whistleblowers get a bad reputation, and generally suffers more under the guise of being “rats” than the actual perpetrators of match-fixing.
And as Nick Garlick explains, that attitude needs alteration for something to truly change in the world of sports.
“Athletes should be happy to report match fixing, without being looked down at as whistleblowers. Zero tolerance is not the way in my opinion, and players reporting match fixing should be able to continue their careers without lifetime bans and stigma.”
Athletes as a part of the solution
Harri Syvasalmi agrees, that the athletes should be treated as heroes for blowing the whistle, rather than like criminals.
“Athletes needs to be a part of the solution from the beginning, instead of a part of the problem”.
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.”