The Power Behind ISIL, the Breath-Taking Hypocrisy of South African Officials and the Qatari Disappearances

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Back from a wonderful, golden summer.   Spent some of it reading books in various superb locations so starting next week will be a series of reviews.  I will start with a book that purports to teach people ‘how to gamble like a professional’.   

However,  lets us start with ISIL, SAFA and the Qatari Police ‘disappearing’ of labour researchers.


Iraq and ISIL

Sigh.  Here it goes again.   The same clatter of the terrorist-military industrial complex revving itself up on the screens and pages of the English-language media.

If you have missed the reports, it is the same bunch of suit-clad white guys declaring that the end of civilization is upon us because of the actions of ISIL in Iraq.   These commentators (few of whom speak Arabic) declare that ISIL is a threat on the streets of London, New York and across Europe.    The TV anchors nod and look serious as they let this gang of clowns invade our public space with their malarkey.

It is all reminiscent of those outrageous stories we heard from the likes of the former British prime minister Tony Blair - “Saddam Hussein can launch a missile that can hit London in 45-minutes” – before the last war in Iraq.  The same nonsense. The same painful comparisons with Hitler or the Nazis.  The same blah, blah, blah delivered in solemn tones.

I was a freelance journalist in Iraq. I hate hearing that my colleagues were murdered.   The killings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff are atrocities.  The attacks on minority groups like the Christians, Turkomens and Yezidis are loathsome war crimes.    However, like Cooley and Sotloff, I deeply revere the truth and there are some issues that needed to be clarified before we start revving up the rhetoric.

The first question is who are ISIL: a bunch of supermen?

Iraq has a population of 36 million people.   ISIL is purported to have turned 1 million of them into refugees. It is purported to have taken over control of the government and streets of Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul with a population of 2-million people. It is also supposed to be actively fighting against the al-Assad regime in Syria. It is supposed to have been fighting against the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.  It is also supposed to have extended control over the Sunni triangle to the very borders of Baghad.

Really?  How?

ISIL is supposed to have only 30,000 fighters in Iraq (and that is the maximum number count, most estimates put them at less than 12,000).  Either someone did some serious under-counting or there is something else going on there.  

30,000 people could not fill a football stadium.  How are they supposed to spread terror and Islamic governance over an area twice the size of Scotland and a population greater than Canada?  Yes, they could act as terrorists but what we are told is that ISIL has proclaimed an Islamic state and is running the area that they control on Islamic principles.  

Here is what, I believe, is going on.   All politics are local.  The Sunni tribes of central Iraq are using ISIL to put pressure on the Iraq government (largely Shia – who have been excluding them from political and economic power for the last few years).   These are powerful groups whose fighters (and former Iraqi army officers) could quickly overcome ISIL.

ISIL has risen with their help and so long as they are useful to these Sunni power centres, they will be allowed to continue. Once they get too big for their boots, the Sunni tribes will eliminate them.   As they did to ISIL’s predecessors when they tried to take over Anbar Province in 2006.

If this is the case, why the end-of-the-world rhetoric?

Part of the problem is that the Kurdish Peshmerga forces are angling for more guns and military supplies.  Most interviews with western journalists features some dubious-looking Kurdish official saying, “We need more guns and supplies to beat back ISIL.”

The Kurds want more guns in part to help out against ISIL but much, much more to fight the Iraqi Army. The Peshmerga have little intention of trying to retake Mosul, but they really want to carve out an independent state for themselves in northern Iraq.  

If ISIL had brains (which they do) they will reach out to the Turkish military (who loathe the idea of an independent Kurdistan and the alleged support the Iraqi Kurds give to the Turkish Kurdish guerrilla forces who are fighting for an independent Kurdish state in eastern Turkey – see how complicated this local politics gets?)

The Iraqi army ‘trained’ by the Americans that folded so quickly this summer in Mosul has been always a bunch of rabble who wore their uniforms for money and little else (as are many of their counterparts in Afghanistan). I once saw a promotional video of their US trainers rubbing one of his students on the head with his left hand.  If the American military trainers are so stupid that they do not know what an insult that action is in the Middle East and they put it in a promotional video then the fighting spirit and aptitude of the people they trained will be only as good as their next Pentagon-backed pay cheque.

Finally, the clowns we see on our screens and newspaper articles are, for the most part, trying to prime their own pump.   Since the death of Osama bin Laden funding for the anti-terrorism-industrial-complex has been on the decline. ISIL’s rise has come at the opportune moment to get it flowing again.  


It is not often you can feel a twinge of sympathy for FIFA officials, but the actions this week of South African football officials is up there with great historical examples of breath-taking hypocrisy.

To review:   Some unknown South African Football Association official (or officials) helped the Dan Tan/Wilson Raj Perumal gang fix a series of international friendly matches played by the South African team just before the start of the 2010 World Cup. 

The official (s) helped the fixers by persuading other officials at the cash-strapped SAFA that it would be a sensible investment to let outsiders arrange the referees for these games.

Quite why SAFA was ‘cash-strapped’ weeks before the start of the World Cup, an event which saw the country pour billions of rands/dollars/Swiss francs into the tournament is a question no one seems to have investigated.

In 2012, FIFA prepared a report on the matches stating that in the investigators’ opinion the matches had been fixed and that the fixers had help from people within the South African Football Association.  The report urges the South African government to properly investigate the matter using police or judicial powers. (This story was the basis for a series of articles that I wrote earlier this year with Jere Longman for the New York Times).

After the report was shown to them, the South Africans apparently became so concerned that someone might examine other issues (like what happened to all the money for the tournament?) that they sent their sports minister and SAFA officials to Switzerland to ask that FIFA focus any investigation on only the question of the fixed matches.

Then in March of this year, after a series of convoluted and internecine South African football political manoeuvres and whole lot of presumably-honest officials being fired from the association, the President of South Africa Jacob Zuma announced there would be no official South African investigation into the affair and that the whole problem was now FIFA’s issue.

How FIFA with no subpoena powers, no capacity to issue arrest warrants or obtain phone and computer records is supposed to get to the bottom of this issue is a mystery. 

What is also a mystery is that - now - South African officials are chastising FIFA for not properly examining the issue.


Finally,  a note of support for Krishna Upadhyaya and Ghimire Gundev.  These men are the two researchers in labour issues who were ‘disappeared’ in Doha, when they tried to investigate the conditions of workers constructing the World Cup stadiums.  It is an action that reveals the hypocrisy of the Qatari stance on human rights and anti-corruption issues.  Shame on the Qatar Government and strength to Mr. Upadhyaya and Mr. Gundev.


Hill’s Patented and Highly-Scientific Method of Figuring Out Who Will the Premier League

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Note:  Over the summer, I am re-printing a number of columns that are still timely.  Here is one to be read at the beginning of the English football season.




The first week in European football always throws up the usual roster of conspiracy theories and depressed Arsenal fans who, after one match, realize that their team, once more, will not be winning any trophies.


However, for the rest of the world, it raises the question of who will the Premier League?  Here to help out is my theory developed over years of joy and pain watching the Arsenal and various other teams.


A number of points:


1)             Despite my usual expertise and knowledge base.  This theory does not depend on corruption, bribed referees or fixed matches of any kind.


2)             It is pretty infallible. Up there, with my Theory of Martin Jol’s Lasagna to predict winners of major international tournaments.  I cannot ever being wrong with the theory, however, this may be selective memory.  It certainly gives any fan or better a way of analyzing the league than the usual interminable discussion of tactics and transfers.


Right.  Here goes.

First, there will only be one team out of the following six who will the Premier League: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool.    This is straight-forward stuff, but there are always the odd freak who pops up at this point of the season to write articles predicting things like, “This is Cardiff City’s year to shine.” Or “Hope and Glory for the ‘Toon!”   Sure and Martians will land on earth and help us find a solution for global warning. 


Two, the summer tabloids have been dominated (yet again) with the transfer sagas of players like Luis Suarez.   Ignore them.  Premier League titles are not won by highly-skilled, but temperamental, players like Suarez.  They win games, they do not win titles.


Here is the theory.  Imagine this scenario: 


It is 11 o’clock at night.  A fancy bar in downtown London.  All six of these top teams are there; their WAGs, fancy cars and expensive drinks are also present.  Words are exchanged.   The teams rise and fight each other.   There are no alliances, no treaties, no fixed agreements between them.  Nor are there bouncers or paid staff to help. Each team fights for themselves.  There will be only winner. One team will, at the end of the brawl, be in charge of the bar, the others will be outside on the street.


Who would win?


Name that team – and you have the winner of this year’s league title.


Look down the roster of each of the six top teams and decide who would win the bar fight and you will know who will be Champion.


Manchester City fans will point out that in Vincent Kompany they have a defender who treats opposing forwards like an ill-tempered Frankenstein meeting a group of unruly Transylvanian peasant.  Chelsea fans will say that John Terry is the man who looks like the driver of the get-away van.   The response is that yes – they are.   But once Terry’s knee, left-elbow or pinkie is injured this season, can Gary Cahill and the others pick up the fight?


This is not simple bravado or macho posturing.  Nor does it mean that players of skill are not important.  If this were true, then Stoke City would be the perennial Champions, but it does mean that there is something beyond the latest highly-expensive transfer of a skilled player in deciding who will win the Premier League.


The Premier League and all of the accompanying tournaments (FA Cup, Champions League, Europa League, League Cup, etc, etc) are played at a frantic pace and a wearying schedule of travel.   It is not only brawl against other teams.    It is on one’s own team that this kind of toughness is needed. 


For those fellow-disenchanted Arsenal fans, who watched our team playing with so little spirit: group of dilettante debutantes afraid to get their dresses dirty.


Try playing like that with Rio Ferdinand in your dressing room and see what happens.  It is the same attitude that Ian Rush talked to me about when we spoke about Fernando Morientes and other non-performing continental players at Liverpool.  “It is difficult to get them to get up for a mid-February game against Crystal Palace.” 


It is the spirit the Rush showed when he was playing.  It is that spirit that will win games that one is supposed to lose. It is that spirit that will Championships. 





Now – the Fenerbahçeversus Arsenal match.


A waste of time. 

Fenerbahçe should not be in the Champions League.  Heck!  They should not even be in the Turkish Super-league, but playing their way out of an enforced relegation at the bottom division of Turkish football.  What has occurred in that country is nothing short of a hijacking of the legal system, the political establishment and common sense by millions of Fenerbahçe supporters.  


Thank goodness that UEFA has tried to stand up to them!  Kudos to Michel Platini and all his staff.   It is an odds-on that CAS (the effective Supreme Court of Sport) will throw out Fenerbahçe’s appeal.   One can only hope so, otherwise European football will have received a real legal kick in the teeth in allowing a team who achieved such success with such widespread match-fixing to continue unpunished. 


So Why Did It Take You So Long?

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Note:  Over the summer, I am re-printing a number of columns that are still timely.  Here is one first published September 2013 in response to a campaign of disinformation coming out of Singapore. 



Oh those poor people!  One has to spare a moment of sympathy for the poor lads and lasses at the Singaporean police forces.  It has been a rough last couple of months for them. In June, they had to endure the embarrassment of a Singapore police officer being arrested in Malaysia with the help of the local police for the murder of a father and son businessmen in Singapore.  Then in July, an assistant director of their anti-corruption bureau was arrested for a multi-million-dollar alleged gambling-linked fraud.   Now these sensitive souls have expressed themselves to be shocked and outraged that anyone in the international community could doubt their commitment to arresting well-known match-fixers in their jurisdiction. 


Last week, in the light of the Dan Tan arrest, I did an interview with the BBC World Service.    In the interview, I pointed out the obvious - that Dan Tan’s alleged match-fixing activities have been widely-known for years.  The Italian, Hungarian, German and Finnish police have repeatedly asked Singapore for their help in apprehending fixers.  The Singaporeans when confronted with an international arrest warrant for Dan Tan did not move in a speedy and timely fashion.  


Yesterday, the Singaporean police issued a statement claiming to be deeply disappointed in my comments. 


Okay.  Let us compare the Singaporean police actions with almost any other police force involved in the match-fixing investigations of the last few years.


The Finnish police, in a small town north of the Arctic Circle, made a dozen arrests, completed an entire investigation on Dan Tan’s purported lieutenant and got a series of convictions in less than six months. 


Helped by this case, the Italian police and prosecutors were able to produce close to four-hundred pages of evidence on Dan Tan’s alleged activities in their country in less than six months.  This evidence has produced dozens of arrests and convictions in their country where they have labeled Dan Tan as ‘their number-one wanted man’.


The Italians then handed over much of their evidence to the Singaporean authorities.  


Even with all this documentation and court room testimony the Singaporeans still could not bring themselves to arrest Mr. Tan for close to eleven-months.   


Crikey!  Even the Zimbabweans managed to work more quickly than the Singaporeans, when honest administrators and policemen investigated fixers infiltrating their Football Association. 


Four months ago, the Hungarian police joined their Italian colleagues and also submitted an international arrest warrant for Dan Tan.  Did that produce his immediate arrest? 




Now the Singaporean police are also making the outrageous claim that they are the only jurisdiction that could arrest match-fixers properly. 


“[Using lots of resources] … has enabled us to arrest the 14 suspects, including the suspected mastermind, using Singapore laws as no other jurisdictions could have done likewise using their laws.”   


In making this bizarre claim, they ignore the hard and more timely work of the Finnish, Zimbabwean, Chinese, South Korean, Italian, German, Turkish, Greek, Maltese, Israeli, Czech, Slovak and Hungarian police forces – to name just a few more efficient police forces.


Let us be very clear, Singaporean police: do not try to shift the focus to people who are reporting the story.    The world is saying to you, ‘One of your people is accused of coming to our countries and fixing our sports.   Last year, you were presented with an international warrant for his arrest.  You did not arrest him for over-eleven months.  If he continued to fix our sports during that time than the fault is yours.  If he did not fix any games since the international arrest warrant was issued – then what have you been doing?’ 


Given the Singaporeans slowness to move.  The best thing that we can do now is get Dan Tan on a plane to a jurisdiction where the world can hear his full testimony. Then we can determine why he was such a lucky recipient of all this time.




Questions to Ask about the Detention of Dan Tan 


1) Why did it take so long?


2) The original arrest warrants were delivered to Singapore almost one year ago.  Nothing was done. Why not?


3) Does this amount of warning to a suspect give them time to destroy potential evidence?  


4) Tan, has according to my sources, been detained under an anti-terrorism law.  If so, does this mean that he will not have a chance to testify in an independent court?   Thereby not giving the public a chance to hear all that he can tell?  Thereby not giving him a fair trial?


5) Ummm… why did it take so long?  No, really, we still have not heard a credible reason why law authorities took almost one year to arrest a suspect. 



Falls Road versus the Shankill Road

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Note:  Over the summer, I am re-printing a number of columns that are still timely.  Here is one first published June 2013 just before the G8 conference in Belfast but now during the ‘Marching Season’ still worth a read.


Of all the soccer games in the world, this is one of the most symbolically significant: England versus Ireland.   I watched it in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland where next week’s G8 summit will be held.   Any sporting event between these two countries brings up all kinds of memories – Cromwell’s invasion, the Easter Rebellion, the IRA bombings or the Bloody Sunday massacre by British troops.  A thousand years of violent history all represented on one small square field of grass.  


This particular match was, potentially, even worse.   The last time the two countries had played a soccer game had been in Dublin in 1995.  A large contingent of English fans had sung vicious anti-Irish songs, halted the game and then trashed the stadium.  Eventually, after they had terrified thousands of people, the police had to disperse them with tear gas.


This next match could have been the kick-off to a violent bloodbath.  So I decided to test the new, official view of Northern Ireland: the one promoted by government bureaucrats that says the area has put its troubled past behind it, Catholics and Protestants are happily living side-by-side and everything is peaceful.  I would watch the first half in a Catholic area and then cross the sectarian community lines and watch the second half in Protestant pub.


The official story may say that all is wonderfully calm, but the streets tell a different story.  The first sense that the official version is incomplete came in the Holywood neighbourhood, steps from the airport.  On every lamppost are flags of the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Protestant paramilitary organization that features AK47 machine guns as their emblem.


This is not an exception.   Almost everything in this city – neighbourhood, shop or pub - is one religion or the other.   Just in case a visitor does not understand, flags hang everywhere either the Union Jack (Protestant) or the Irish flag (Catholic).


This division invades the minds of people.  The next day, I interviewed Mairad McGuire, the Northern Irish housewife who had risked her life and won a Nobel Peace Prize in this troubled land.  However, even with a modern-day saint, the interview started, as almost all conversations do here, by McGuire trying to figure out (but not asking directly) what religion I was.


There is a long and ignoble tradition of journalists ignoring their local colleagues.  



When I arrived in the Falls Road, night was falling.  This is a historic Catholic area.  It is just down from where the Unionist paramilitaries hit another pub with a rocket attack and up from where a crazed group of mourners had dragged two innocent British soldiers out of their car and lynched them.  


The people in the pub were absolutely friendly.  The game was broadcast on large screens but the sound track was that dreadful musical mix that predominates in almost every Irish pub.  Forget musical genius like Bono, Geldoff or Van Morrison – most drinking establishments in the Emerald Isle feature a soundtrack of the worst songs of Elvis Presley, Percy Sledge with the occasional Robbie Williams track thrown in for modernity.  


In general, there seemed little sectarian danger for a Canadian outsider. Like any pub in any poorer part of town, anywhere in the world, it might be a place where someone would thump you for your wallet if you were particularly annoying.  But I had no problems, I watched the game, sipped my drink and left at half-time.


Then came the problem of crossing the lines.   I asked the taxi driver where a good pub would be to watch the game in the Protestant area.


“I have no idea.” He shrugged hopelessly, and stared out the window in a worried fashion.  The Shankill Road is a few hundred yards from the Falls, but for a Catholic taxi driver, it is a foreign country.  In the same way, there are ‘Catholic or Protestant restaurants’ – so too there are sectarian taxi companies that can only go safely to specific areas in the city.  


This is Protestant territory.   The Royal Pub, where I watched the game is at its centre.  Across the street is a full-size advertising horde announcing that the ‘martyrdom of five Protestants blown up in 1975’. This is where many of the July parades will form, when hard-line Protestants from across Northern Ireland (some even fly in from Canada), march into Catholic areas accompanied by bands and flags to celebrate the victory of Protestant armies several hundred years ago.  Three-hundred-meters away are the high ‘peace walls’ of iron and barbed wire that separate the communities.   Widespread graffiti announces to the neighbourhood that there should be no cooperation with the new, non-denominational Northern Irish police force.  


Here is the key.  There was – to a Canadian – no difference between the two pubs.  This is not Israel settlers versus Palestinians or Kurdish Peshmerguas versus Iraqi Sunnis, where you can tell which side of the sectarian divide you are on right away.   The people in the Protestant pub sounded the same as the Catholic pub.  They dressed the same (except for their football jerseys).  They were for all-practical purposes identical. Even the same soundtrack of American pop hits circa 1962, played in the pubs.  This is why so much of Belfast conversation is about determining which religion you are or so much of neighbours are strewn with flags – there are few outward signs to show the difference so it must be deliberately announced.


In the end, nothing happened.  It was a dreadful shank of a match, which with the exception of one superbly taken Irish goal, was a sleeper.   There were no riots. No burning of tires. No marches.


After the match was over, I got another taxi.  


“Where is there a neutral area, a no-man’s land, in this city?” I asked.


The driver laughed.


“This is Belfast. There is none.”


What Happened to Brazil and the Asian Gambling Market

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It was not a fix.

I know, I know, I know. My inbox has been full of people inquiring about match-fixing: but watching Brazil being dismantled by a wonderful German team there was no corruption, no conspiracy, no manipulation in the background by Asian fixers.

Germany beat Brazil because they were a better team.

I do not mean strategically.  I do not mean that Low out-coached Scolari (although I believe he did).  

I mean the German players were, for the most part, better than the Brazilians.

Again I do not mean that the Germans were better athletes - faster runners, better stamina, stronger physique. I mean that most of these German players are technically better then the Brazilian players.

Who would you rather have as a goalkeeper: the good Júlio César or the excellent Manuel Neuer?    

You could go through the entire team and do a similar exercise:  Fred vs. Klose, Philip Lahm, Khedira, Ozil vs. Dante, Willian, da Silva.  It doesn’t work for every player but most of the time you would choose the German player over his Brazilian counterpart.
The touch of the German players was often better; they took one touch to control the ball: where some of the Brazilians were taking two.

This is not to say that the Brazilians are not good players, it is that they no longer have that technical superiority made the rest of the world stand in awe.  

It was not always thus.

For the last sixty years, there have been a series of extraordinary Brazilian teams and players.   In 2002, the Brazilians had the geniuses of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo against a German team that was transitioning between the solid Teutonic style of their teams in the 1990s to this fashionable, chic and very good squad of players.

What happened in the Belo Horizonte Stadium was a tribute to German coaching and technical ability at country-wide level.  They have completely retrained their players to play in a different style.

Two things to take away from this game:

It was the end of an era – the tournament began with the death of the Spanish tika-taka style.   The tournament is ending with the death of the myth of the invincible Brazilian technique.

Second, we have now entered the era when surprises such as this are automatically assumed by many peope to have been a fix.   This is very dangerous for the future of football.

              The Asian Gambling Market and the World Cup

After all the controversy around this tournament about fixed games and corruption.  Here is a question - 'How do you tell if a game has been fixed?'

After the Cameroon games, there was so much chatter that Ralf Mutschke the hard-pressed head of FIFA security, held a press conference saying, while the organization had no hard evidence of corruption, “They were monitoring it closely.”   

Mutschke assembled a team of 13 experts to vet games to make sure that nothing suspicious occurred.   These in-play experts joined the Early Warning System (EWS) – a FIFA-linked company that monitors the gambling markets for any unusual patterns that may indicate a fixed match.

However, Mutschke and FIFA have declared that there was nothing odd about any of the games and there was no evidence from the gambling market that a fix had occurred. 

The question remains – how do you tell if a game has been fixed?   Even experts cannot tell with certainty from the performance of the athletes if a player is simply making a mistake or has been bribed.  

Bruce Grobbelaar was the star goalkeeper of the English Premier League teams Liverpool and Southampton in the 1990s.  He was arrested for match-fixing.  His high-profile trial featured different expert witness of former players testifying for both sides that he was either innocent or guilty based on Grobbelaar’s play on the field.   

This legal stand-off is not exceptional. In judicial cases around the world from Hong Kong to Singapore to the Czech Republic, judges have struggled to understand if an athlete was fixing from their performance in the stadium.

This uncertainty around judging the performance of the players has given way to monitoring the large international sports gambling market to see if there are any suspicious patterns in the odds movements that may indicate a fixed match. The key to understanding the sports gambling market is in Asia.

Sports Insomniacs

This World Cup, Asia is a continent of sports insomniacs.   The games are played in the middle of the night which means millions of exhausted soccer fans go through their day after sleepless nights watching the soccer games from Brazil.  The airwaves are full of yawning radio DJs and the roads tired taxi drivers. There are even special noon editions of the newspapers to report the scores of the World Cup games, some played at dawn Asian time.

At two a.m., the LiveWire studio in the massive Marina Bay Sands Casino - the half-Stonehenge, half-airport terminal-like complex that dwarves the centre of this city state -  is filled with hundreds of legal bettors watching the games.  There is a friendly, informal atmosphere.   Men and women sit around tables with thermos pots of tea and sandwiches.  Many of them hold betting slips.  This is the smiling face of the regulated sports gambling market.  The LiveWire studio is one of the few places in Singapore, indeed all of Asia, where bettors can legally gamble on sports.  

The action here is dwarfed by the illegal sports gambling market.  Because so much of it is unregulated, estimates vary on its total size.  The World Lottery Association estimates it to be $93 billion: the European private bookmakers claim it to be $323 billion and Interpol, the International police agency thinks it is over $500 billion.

What experts can agree on is that most of the action in the unregulated sports gambling market happens in Asia and that interest spikes during the World Cup. In China, according to the Chinese Sports Lottery, the legal market for this year’s tournament is 4 billion Yuan, nearly twice what was bet on the World Cup in 2010.

To fight against the illegal gambling market there have been arrests across the continent. In June, Singaporean police arrested fifteen people with a betting network estimated to be worth at least $800,000.   In Macau, 22 people were arrested and there the illegal gambling network was estimated to $5 billion Hong Kong ($750 million US).  Just one bet at the Macau illegal gambling syndicate was worth HK$40 million or ($5 million US).

Steve Darby, a former coach of the Thailand and Vietnam national squads with extensive experience in Asia, does not think that these arrests do much good:  “They mostly arrest the small-fry: the people who are low down on the totem pole.  The gambling industry is huge here and is largely untouched.”

The fear is that this massive illegal gambling industry fuels match-fixing that could even influence the World Cup in Brazil.  Darby, who now works as a TV commentator on the local soccer leagues, says:  “Fixing happens so often that no one is surprised when we hear about it.  It drives you mad.  Some people cannot look at a mistake in a match and not think that it might have been fixing.  It probably was not, but you just do not know anymore.”

There have been fixing scandals across the region.  On July 1st, a Singaporean journalist was found guilty of bribing referees in an international soccer game with high-priced prostitutes. In June, English police secured convictions of two Singaporeans who boasted about fixing in English soccer.  They said they could buy a game in the lower English leagues for about $110,000.

Every Few Seconds, More Bets

Midnight - at the sports trading desk of the Hong Kong Jockey Club.  The USA vs. Germany game is on the television.  Dozens of bookmakers - or traders – work here.  Each of them has four computer screens in front of them, with a vast array of gambling information flowing across them.  One small graph shows the time and amount of each bet coming into their books: every few seconds, another bet, ranging from the low hundreds to thousands of dollars, is registered.

There is little noise.  The atmosphere is more chess match, than poker tournament. In the near silence, Patrick Jay heads up the trading group.   A tall, well-educated Englishman, he motivates his group with an urbane mix of charm and tough intelligence.

 “This is not the 1980s,” says Jay.  “We are a professional group of sports traders.  My people do not jump up and down or throw things. They get the job done.  I would take on any professional bookmakers anywhere in the world.   Other bookmakers are larger than we are, but we are the most profitable sports trading book in the world.”

The numbers support him.   Last year, the Hong Kong Jockey Club made billions of dollars in profit. Much of this money went in charitable donations to the community, including the financing of homeless shelters and university research programs.

Jay is a world-renowned expert in the sports gambling world and both Interpol and FIFA consult with his opinion on the gambling market.   However, even his team struggles to find consistent patterns in the World Cup gambling market – the volume of cash is so large.

On a normal soccer game in a lower league, unusual amounts that indicate a fix can show up relatively quickly. Benjamin Phillips is a senior manager at the Jockey Club.  He has worked in the industry for over-fourteen years.

“The World Cup is different.” Phillips says,  “There are people who never bet on anything but the World Cup.  They only come out every four years.  The market is incredible. I did not believe it until I saw it, then I believed it.”
There has only been one openly announced case of suspected fixing in the World Cup based on numbers in the gambling market. During the 1998 tournament in France, a furious Mike Saunders, a senior executive of Victor Chandler, a large British bookmaker, announced to the UK press that he was convinced that there had been a fixed match in the World Cup.  

Saunders said that there had been massive amounts of bets coming from Malaysia-Singapore, all on one outcome of one particular game. The rumors in the market was that one team had been bribed. The game Saunders thought had been a “bribery target” also featured Cameroon.  Saunders said, “We had agents working the Asian market, they were swamped. Their phones were going crazy. There is no doubt in my mind there was a fixed match in that World Cup.”

Since then the gambling market has grown larger.  Karl Dhont, a betting expert with UEFA, estimates the gambling sports market on each of the games at the World Cup to be somewhere between two and three billion dollars.   The value of the games fluctuate depending on the teams playing and the time of day.  In total, the gambling market for the entire World Cup tournament is conservatively estimated at one-hundred billion dollars.   In comparison, FIFA estimates that all the television rights and commercial syndication of the World Cup at approximately four-billion dollars.

The other problem for experts in the betting market is that the World Cup has no consistency to properly evaluate the teams – as the surprising success of underdog teams like Costa Rica and Greece showed.  One professional gambler said, “There is huge uncertainty in the World Cup market.   It is very difficult to price a game correctly anyway.  It is not like a league which goes on for thirty or forty matches.”

EWS and FIFA response

When contacted the head of FIFA’s EWS Detlev Zenglein refused to comment about their operations referring all questions about the gambling in the World Cup to FIFA itself.  However, his company has beefed up during the tournament by sub-contracting SportsRadar - another gambling monitoring company - to try to ensure comprehensive coverage of the market.

Ralf Mutschke the head of security for FIFA said that while the organization remained vigilant there was no sign that fixers had succeeded in corrupting the tournament saying, “We have carefully monitored all 56 games to date and we will continue to monitor the remaining eight matches. So far we have found no indication of any manipulation on the betting market of any World Cup matches.”

However, two investigators who have been immensely effective in stopping match-fixers in international soccer do not believe that monitoring the gambling market is particularly effective at stopping the threat to the integrity of soccer or the World Cup.  

Terry Steans is a former FIFA investigator who now works as a security consultant.  It was his investigation that led to the arrest of the Singaporean match-fixers recently convicted in England. He said of the gambling monitoring system, “It is better than doing nothing, but for the World Cup and the big international tournaments, you cannot see odds movements. I don’t think it does much to protect the sport.”

Another policeman who has been immensely influential in the fight against match-fixing in international soccer is Friedhelm Althans.  He is an organized crime investigator in Bochum, Germany responsible for convicting a number of match-fixers in a series of high-profile legal cases over the last five years. Althans is doubtful about gambling monitoring system. “I don’t think they are very useful at all.  Because our suspects from Singapore (fixers) use only the illegal market what is not observed by the monitoring systems of FIFA and UEFA.  And therefore you cannot see this irregular betting.”

Last year, Althans announced, with his Europol colleagues, that their investigations had discovered hundreds of fixed matches in international soccer, including World Cup qualifying matches.  He points out that none of the fixers were caught by studying the gambling market.  As for the World Cup, the monitoring system of the gambling market are, he said, “without any measurable value”.

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Copyright © 2013 Declan Hill. All Rights Reserved.