It’s called the greatest show in sports. But how much of the World Cup is more show than sport?
The New York Times details death threats and bribes corrupting FIFA officiating in an explosive report coming less than two weeks from the World Cup’s opening matches. The story threatens to taint the tournament in Brazil, which lasts from June 12 to July 13.
“Fixers are attracted to soccer because of the action it generates on the vast and largely unregulated Asian betting markets,” the Times points out. “And if executed well, a fixed soccer match can be hard to detect. Players can deliberately miss shots; referees can eject players or award penalty kicks; team officials can outright tell players to lose a match.”
The World Cup stands to generate more than $4 billion. But soccer officials claim that rooting out rotten officials can be an expensive business.
The report focuses on a 2010 exhibition match between South Africa and Guatemala preceded by a $100,000 bank deposit by an African referee and massive gambling action detected on the game. The match itself featured several several highly questionable rulings, including a phantom handball call that led to a penalty kick. Other matches further raised suspicions.
“The tainted South African matches were not the only suspect ones,” the Times reports. “Europol, the European Union’s police intelligence agency, said last year that there were 680 suspicious matches played globally from 2008 to 2011, including World Cup qualifying matches and games in some of Europe’s most prestigious leagues and tournaments.”