I have often said "the referee is bought" during football games to the amusement of many friends. It is funny, but I have always meant it as only half a joke; there is no doubt that the bribing of referees in football matches has happened at the highest level. Notable examples are the semifinal of the UEFA Cup in 1984, where Anderlecht had paid the referee, who gave them a dubious penalty and disallowed a clear goal to win the match, as well as the scandal of referee Robert Hoyser in Germany in 2005, as well as the bribing of referees in the 2006 Italian match fixing scandal.
All these cases are mentioned and examined in Declan Hill's outstanding but somewhat depressing book about match-fixing in football.
Depressing because, as Mr. Hill himself mentions in the book, all football fans like myself would rather not know about this. We keep living in an ideal world, defending poor refereeing (even when we demand TV to help out referees, some people say that the game should allow for referee mistakes. After reading this: should we also allow for purposeful "mistakes"?) as well as idealizing players and the ideals of fair play in the game.
Surely most people involved in football are dignified and fair people, but we are still blinded to the fact that some players have known to be corrupt, as Mr. Hill documents. Lack of income, clubs without money, and the sheer funds involved in gambling make the possibility of match fixing way to real, even at the highest level. While he never definitely proves fixing of matches at the 2006 World Cup, the indications that he finds should be enough for a serious investigation to be opened.
He looks at match fixing in Asia, Europe (Germany, Italy, France, Belgium and Finland are just some examples where he documents massive fixing within the last 20 years) and in the World Cup. It would be interesting if he had also looked at South America, and even more deeply into Spain, where many clubs in deep economic crises seem to have fertile ground for match fixers to operate.
But the sad truth is that either there is too much money (and this power) in fixing and too little interest in destroying the dream of "the beautiful game" for authorities to take real action against the problem.
And we are all guilty: the fans for wanting to ignore the problem, the media for downplaying it, and football administrators for wanting to close their eyes (and in some cases, according to Mr. Hill, even implicit complicity by refusing to investigate cases as those during the 2007 Women's World Cup or by giving administrative positions to people who have been known to be involved in match fixing).
Although really depressing, the book ends with a positive note, where Mr. Hill uses the case of football in the poorest and most violent neighborhoods of Nairobi, Kenya, to show that football in spite of it all still can bring a lot of positive with it.
However, that should not close our eyes, even if we want to close them, to the fact that we have all probably been witness to fixed matches...
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