Jul30

Falls Road versus the Shankill Road

Categories // Blog

 

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.”

 
Jul09

What Happened to Brazil and the Asian Gambling Market

Categories // Blog

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”.

Jul04

Tales of Cameroon Fixing, ISIL vs. The Sunni Tribes and Who is Wilson Raj Perumal?

Categories // Blog

Just pay the players.


The Brazilian government announced that they spent $17 billion dollars on infrastructure and stadiums for this tournament.

FIFA announced that World Cup generates $4 billion dollars in television rights and sponsorship.

And they cannot pay all the players?  They cannot ensure that some of the people who are actually putting on the show get paid properly?

This is the key question to all these issues around the allegations about Cameroon players fixing.

Ever since Cameroon first qualified for a World Cup in 1982 there have been allegations about some of their players selling games.   Italian journalists even wrote a book on their investigation to Cameroon to find out the truth. 

In the 1998 World Cup, there were stories coming from the English bookmakers Victor Chandler that their Asian division had been hit by “bribery” of a game featuring Cameroon.  

In the fixing circle in Singapore and Malaysia there are constant wild stories and fanciful rumours about Cameroon.

What all these stories have in common is that the Cameroon players are not paid properly by their national football association.

We could stop all the tales, all the controversies, all the alleged scandals at this World Cup in one minute: pay the players.

Every player (and referee) at the World Cup should receive a minimum salary paid directly to their bank accounts by FIFA.   Fifty-thousand dollars just for playing.  Thirty-five thousand dollars for scoring a goal: twenty-five thousand for setting-up a goal (“an assist”): if a goalkeeper keeps a clean-sheet during regulation time he earns one-hundred thousand dollars: his defenders twenty-five thousand each.

There are fans who say that this would cost a lot of money.

Compared to who?  The shady developers and construction companies that cost their own country so much money?  FIFA executives?  The national football officials who now, some of the time, pocket the players’ salaries?

This is the biggest sporting tournament in the world in the year 2014.  It is ridiculous that we still have the spectacle of players going on strike or demanding payment in cash. This is the open door for corruption, until FIFA closes it, expect more controversy.

**

Part of my emotions during this World Cup have been with Iraqi friends as the ISIL militants run amok. 

A few thoughts:

    •    It is no accident that the attack on Mosul began on the same day as the start of the World Cup. The ancient Greeks used to suspend warfare during their Olympic Games. In our era, it is common strategic policy to time attacks (think Russian incursion into Georgia at the Beijing Olympics) to the start of these major sporting tournaments.

    •    Any media outlet that relies on Americans or Brits to explain Iraq is a waste of your time. The best person to explain Iraq is an Iraqi.  If you find yourself mystified by Iraq, it is because our media coverage for years has been dominated by the usual suspects of middle-aged white men in suits who say things like, “These people…” or "What you must understand is..."


    •    Where are the tribes?   I do not believe a bunch of nutbars like ISIL could pee in the Sunni heartland without support of the local tribes.  It is Highland Scotland in the 1700s.   For power, don’t watch all that Jihad stuff on the Internet.  Watch what the local leaders of the tribes around Tikrit are doing. They outnumber the ISIL by several factors.


    •    Iraq is as flat as six-thousand football pitches put end to end.  Taking the ground between Mosul and Ramadi is like a three-hundred-kilometre stroll across a front-lawn.   Attacking a city like Baghdad or the hill country near Sulaymaniyah is a different proposition.

**

Who is Wilson Raj Perumal?

Much of the controversy around the Cameroon team at the World Cup concerns a Der Spiegel story where it is claimed that Perumal knew the result of their game against Croatia (4-0) and that there would be a red-card in the first-half, before the game started.

His media handlers at Invisible Dog - an Italian investigative journalism website - have subsequently stated that Perumal did not say these things until after the game and that besides he did not know he was being taped by the Der Spiegel journalist.

Der Spiegel has retorted, “Sauerkraut!” and have stood by their original story.

FIFA has said that there is still “No evidence” that a fix occurred in the match.

The man at the centre of the controversy is a fascinating fellow.  If you get a chance, pick up his book – Kelong Kings.  There have been a series of books about the fixing world in the last few months.   Most of these books pedal that dreadful Interpol/ICSS/FIFA agenda and are written by pet monkeys pretending to be journalists.

Wilson Raj Perumal’s book, written with the Invisible Dog people, is good.  The details are often faulty, but the essence is true (I will do a column of reviews of all the books in the next few weeks).

First, the important stuff: Perumal was not King of the Kelong boys. He is not a Godfather. Nor was he the pre-eminent fixer of the Singaporean gang.   He was a runner and associate of the gang. He was never the leader.  There is a whole agenda going on in the media to pretend that he was the biggest match-fixer in the world. This is untrue.

However, Perumal does have cojones the size of grapefruit.   He is a man who walked into national football associations around the world and pitched fixed matches.  He was often successful and he was never betrayed by the soccer officials that he bribed.   Rather he was turned over to the Finnish authorities by his fellow-gang members.

They betrayed him because Perumal acted like a goof.  This is Canadian prison talk for a man who just cannot do a deal without screwing someone over.   Buy a car from a goof: pay the money and before you can pick it up, he will take off a wheel. Why?  Just because.

It is a sickness – goofs just cannot imagine a deal without someone being screwed over.  This perspective comes from Wilson Raj Perumal's own autobiography which is a litany of his complaints about various other members of the gang: someone betraying him or him betraying someone else.  They seem like they could never do a deal without someone being betrayed, or the money being stolen or various lies being told to each other.

In my opinion, Perumal acted like a goof, because he was at the time a degenerate gambler.  A man who helped fix international friendly matches just before the last World Cup and then lost most of his money with stupid bets on non-fixed matches.

What is very clear is that fixers will succeed at big international matches, unless FIFA get serious about ensuring that all the players are properly paid.

**

Here is the reprint of an article I wrote in the spring of 2004, on Sheik Anwar al-Asi.  Read his analysis of the Americans and weep.

**

                        What is Wrong With the Americans?

Sheik Anwar al-Asi doesn’t think the Americans get it.   “Is this the peace that the Americans promised us?  The situation is bad and it is getting worse.”

Academics who specialize in Iraq are fond of the phrase “the shadow society”.    The theory says there is a small group of influential families who rule Iraq socially and economically regardless of who rules politically.    They are a tight knit class that has survived the Ottoman and British Empires, the Hashemite monarchy and the various dictators who have come in their place. 

Sheikh Anwar al-Asi is a prominent member of the “shadow society”.  He is known as the “Emir of the Arabs”.  al-Asi is one of the top men in a hierarchical pyramid of tribes that gives allegiance to  one leader above a large collection of families, clans and larger tribal groupings.   He is the perfect man to try and get an answer to the question – why is the American presence in Iraq failing?

Al-Asi’s house is sixty kilometers north east of Tikrit in the middle of the Sunni triangle.  The countryside looks like nothing has changed in a thousand years.   In the semi-desert plain herds of sheep still graze: papyrus reeds choke every fresh water pond: and palm trees dot the horizon. Beside the road are the remains of a downed U.S. missile.

Inside the house is a long reception room, where, like Jesus’s dining hall, people are seated depending on their status. Around the coffee pot and door are the servants: in the middle of the hall the petitioners: and towards the end the Sheikh and his counselors.  After a lunch served in traditional style – big common plates of meat and rice all eaten with the hands – the Sheikh gets down to business.

“Where are the contracts that the Americans have promised us?  Everything in this country is built by someone else, some foreign company.  Why would we help them if they do not share the wealth of our own country?”

Al-Asi describes Iraqis like children outside a candy store gazing in the window anxious and envious but unable to touch any of the candy.   He is also dismissive of the claims that if the Americans were to leave there would be civil war.

“Look we have lived together for a thousand years.  We know each other.  I know all of the top Kurdish and Turcoman leaders.  And we know how to settle our differences.  There is more going on in Iraq than the United States understands.  They should go.  We will reach agreements peacefully.”

It is an opinion you hear often in this northern region of Iraq.  Many people in the Arab community were supporters - either tacitly or overtly - of Saddam Hussein.   But now even people who may not have supported the last regime wonder why the Americans have come.  

Jumillah Hussein lives in Kirkuk, her brother was blown up by an Islamic suicide bomber but even she criticizes the American presence here.  

"The Americans are crazy. Crazy!  They go everywhere in convoys.  And then, 'bang, bang'. They shot. They kill innocent people.  Then it is 'I am sorry.'  Sorry!  What is the use of 'sorry' when they have killed so many people?"

It is a perplexing question.  Why has the American Army performed so inadequately in Iraq?  Why has the strongest army in the world been unable to control groups of badly armed militias who have no heavy artillery, no anti-tank weapons and no body armour?

Speaking with a group of private security contractors. (“I hate the word mercenary,” says one young South African officer, “We are not mercenaries. We are security guards.   If we were not here, what would happen?  There would be anarchy.  Who would stop the looters?” 

It is hard not to agree.  In April and May of last year – anything and everything that could be stolen, was stolen.  Offices, factories, stores were pillaged.  The roads were ripped up so that looters could steal the cooper inside the phone lines.  Houses were destroyed so looters could take the bricks.)    These men have fought in dozens of different conflicts around the world. It would be difficult to find a group so experienced in fighting wars.  So it is a dangerous sign when they feel that the American Army has fought this particular war all-wrong.

“If you really want to win a war like this. You must do foot patrols.  You must send your troops through the toughest neighbourhoods in the city three, four times a day.”  Says one former Rhodesian army veteran who fought in the guerrilla war against Mugabe’s forces in the late 1970s.  “You cannot get good intelligence driving by in a Humvee.   You have to show that you are afraid of nothing.  Yes, you will take causalities but in the long run far fewer than they are now. It is not just a question of hearts and minds but showing that you are the toughest people around.”

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote of the “other”.  (L’autre c’est l’enfer.”)  Or the creation of an enemy that is something alien and utterly distinct from oneself.  The Americans, strangely, do that.  Every Iraqi, both friend and foe, are “the other”.  It is partly understandable.  To protect themselves, the Americans live in fortified compounds.  Inside these compounds they watch Fox TV, follow basketball play offs and lift weights. They are islands of mini-America. 

To visit them is to return instantly to the United States.   Everything outside blends in together. Iraqis become one homogenous group, without difference or distinction.   The young Iraqis who work inside strive hard to become imitation Americans.  They dress in jeans and sweat shirts.  They talk in slangy voices. And they dream of leaving for the United States in the next few months.(They of all the people here are in danger.  The Fedayeen - Saddam Hussein's secret service - put up posters all over Kirkuk. “Wanted Dead – 2,000$ for each Iraqi translator who works for the US forces.”)

But in the long run this creation of the “other” is the American army’s greatest weakness. Iraq is a divided society.  There are myriads of factions, groups and social castes.  Fallujah is a tribal city. Kill one person there, and three hundred other members of their tribe are duty bound to try and kill you.   The American forces simply do not seem to have understood the reality of Iraq and so they shuttle around from armed compound to armed compound unaware of the conditions around them.

A small example of this ignorance.   It is popular to blame any military setback on the lack of weapons or defense systems.  Casualties in a riot?  Better body armour.  Troops attacked in roadside ambush?  Heavy armour on the Humvees.    However, a solution that would go far further in reducing animosity towards the American troops would be the introduction of a slip-on shoe.

The floors of most Middle Eastern homes are considered special. Visitors take off their shoes outside the door.  Once inside they walk carefully and never display the soles of their feet.  Going around with American troops on house searches is to see them always entering houses in heavy military boots laced up to the knees.   It is the rough equivalent of mooning your host. 

Imagine if Iraqi troops were on civil defense duties in the middle of St. Louis, Missouri and every time they entered a house they dropped their trousers to the owner of the house.   How can they be popular if they continue to do that?  It is not as if the Americans could not develop a shoe that could serve their troops well, but not insult their hosts.   This is, after all, the military that has developed “smart bombs”, precision missiles and meals ready to eat.  But until they become more aware of the culture that surrounds them, they will be forever at odds with the Iraqis.

Note: On June 22, 2014 Sheikh Anwar al-Asi was reported as moving to Kirkuk after the ISIL attacked his property.  If they annoy men like al-Asi, it will go badly for ISIL.

Jun28

We Need Ten More Sulley Muntaris, Ketchup on Chiellini’s Back and Fenerbache Again

Categories // Blog

You have to feel sorry for Moses Armah – the poor Ghanaian Football Association official that Sulley Muntari attacked last week.    There must have been a moment as Muntari went for him that Armah’s life passed before his eyes.  Muntari is one tough pit bull.  He is exactly the person you do not want to meet in a dark alley.

However, to start at the beginning: Sulley Muntari does not fix matches; Sulley Muntari wins matches.

He is the Roy Keane of African football.  I have respected him since we met in Accra a number of years ago. He impressed with a deep, thoughtful intelligence for the sport and a passion for his country.

Almost alone of the Ghanaian players, at that time, he expressed a desire for the country to stop using foreign coaches.   His argument, in essence, was that it was racist nonsense to believe that while Ghana produced so many excellent players, it did not have the coaches that could produce international success.

He is also – surprisingly – a gentleman on the pitch: something that Roy Keane’s best friends could never accuse him of being.  On another visit to Accra, I watched him play in a Ghana vs. Nigeria African Nations Cup quarterfinal game.  

There are minor rivalries in sport - Glasgow Celtic vs. Rangers, Liverpool vs. Everton or Red Sox vs. Yankees - then there is Ghana vs. Nigeria.     The enmity between the countries has all kinds of cultural motivations, but the one enduring memory for Ghana is that during their famine in the early 1980s Nigeria expelled over one million Ghanaians back into their hunger-struck country. 

The atmosphere in the stadium was boiling.   There was about twenty minutes to go in the match.   One of the Nigerian players collapsed with cramp.  Muntari walked over to him.  Not to boot him the head or tell him to get up. Rather he helped him massage his leg (I am not making this up) then gave him some water.  

A few moments later, Muntari set up the wining goal.   At the end of the game, he jogged off the field. Job well done.

However, job not well done at the 2014 World Cup by African football officials. 

First, in the excellent articles by the Sunday Times, a great number of African football officials were revealed to have accepted money from Mohammed bin Hammam. Ostensibly, they did so in return for their support of the Qatar World Cup bid.

Second, a Nigerian football official (albeit, a minor one) was seemingly caught by the Sun agreeing to fix an international match.

Third, the Cameroonian officials would not pay their team properly, so the players went on strike.

Fourth, a Ghanaian football official (albeit, a minor one) was seemingly caught by the Daily Telegraph agreeing to fix an international friendly match.

Finally, the Ghanaian officials would not pay the Ghanaian team in cash.

With the track record above: is it any wonder the Ghana players distrusted their officials so much that they insist on cash payments?

This is what holds African football back – not the players, nor the coaches, but stupid, disorganized and - occasionally - deeply corrupt officials. 

I do not think Moses Armah is stupid, disorganized or corrupt, but at that moment it may have seemed to Muntari that he was a symbol for all that is holding back the sport on that continent.

**

As for the Suarez ban - what else could FIFA do?   Suarez did everything but put ketchup on Giorgio Chiellini’s back before biting into him. Then he flopped over to fake it.  Then he continues to deny he is wrong. Then his whiny teammates (and most of his country people) come up with some conspiracy theory that everyone hates them, blah, blah.   Please Suarez and Uruguay do grow up. 

**

The Fenerbahçe match-fixing saga.

Sigh. 

It just keeps going.

First, they ruined Turkish sport. Then they ruined Turkish politics. Now they are ruining the Turkish judiciary.

Here is the - largely - unspoken truth about Fenerbahçe:  they should be the Barcelona of the East. They have an amazing fan base. They have massive amounts of resources. They play attractive football.

However, most of the time they come up short when they play the big boys of European football.   In my opinion, this is because they play in such a deeply unbalanced and corrupted league. Most of their matches are like Manchester United playing Darlington.   Sure they get three points, but there is no competition. 

Fenerbahçe and all of Turkish football needs to be deeply reformed.  It needs a Kemal Atatürk to clean it up.  It may even need a new regional league where the top four Turkish teams play the top four Greek, Bulgarian and Balkan teams.  Boy!  I would like to meet the player or referee who has the courage to fix a game featuring the Greeks vs. the Turks.   It just would not happen.

PS.  Not to canonize Muntari - but you get a measure of the man from this video:

http://nws.mx/1iQfT8K 

I look forward to seeing a video of African football officials handing out money to poor people.

Jun17

The Officials and the Fixers

Categories // Blog

The Officials and the Fixers


It was a symbolic game - South Africa versus Colombia, May 27, 2010. The game took place a few days before the World Cup, it was in the beautiful new stadium at Soccer City in Johannesburg. The South Africans before a raucous crowd of vuvuzela-totting fans won 2-1. The stadium, indeed the entire event, was a sign that a new South African was ready for the international stage. It seemed to show that this was a South Africa that had emerged from apartheid to become a prosperous, multi-cultural society. It was a wonderful day for sport and society.

The only problem was that the game was probably fixed.

These are the words of key officials in the South African Football Association (SAFA). They point out that the referees of the game were appointed by a group of fixers from Singapore. They point out that it is very rare to have all three goals in a top match scored by penalties. They point out that the decisions leading to the penalties were questionable. And they point out that one of their own - a SAFA official - had been corrupted by the fixers and was working with them.

This story is much worse than any previously reported match-fixing scandal. For it is the clearest example that the gangs of fixers have progressed far beyond corrupted referees or dodgy players. The fixers have, at times, gone into the offices and boardrooms of the top officials who organize the sport. Many football matches were fixed with the active connivance of top-level soccer officials: the very people who FIFA is now entrusting with the protection of their sport.

This shocking development has emerged from a number of court trials, police investigations, and confidential interviews with members of the fixing gang and statements of the fixers. Now a confidential FIFA investigation report into matches played in South Africa just before the start of the last World Cup shows how the fixers went far beyond anything previously suspected: match-fixers were helped with the active connivance of high-level soccer officials.

The School for Fixers


There is one central hub for the most prominent match-fixers in the world: Singapore and Malaysia. We know about one particular group led by Tan Seet Eng - or Dan Tan – and his infamous associate - Wilson Raj Perumal. They learned their trade in an informal school for fixers in Singapore. In the early 1990s, Tan, Perumal and dozens of similar men would gather in the stadiums where the illegal bookmakers would take bets on the joint Malaysian and Singaporean soccer league.

These bookies were so successful that a Malaysian Cabinet minister estimated that they fixed over 70% of the matches. Eventually, the league collapsed and the two countries ended up in a diplomatic row.

The fixers do not have an established hierarchy like traditional American organized crime: there are no Capos, Consiglierei or foot soldier ranks. Rather the model, according to interviews with the fixers and their associates, is more like a shark frenzy. At the bottom rung are ‘runners’ – low agents who literally run back and forth between the players/referees/officials and the actual fixer who is betting the money on the fix. In the international fixes these fixers defraud the gambling market – the vast, unregulated sports betting world run out of Asia. Their local partners - in Europe, Africa, Latin America or Australia – fix the actual games by working essentially as their runners.

Above the fixers are influential businessmen with the money to back the more expensive fixes and the protection muscle to make sure the network runs smoothly. These men are mostly Asian, however, in the last few years a group of Russian criminals has joined the syndicate. Little is known about this group as they generate such fear. Three years ago, one of the European fixers told the police officer who interrogated him, “I will tell you everything, except the Russians [sic]. If I talk about the Russians I will die.”


Using these methods, the syndicate has fixed games around the world. Fifteen El Salvadorian players were banned for life after they were discovered to have fixed several national team matches – including one against the USA. In Finland, a group of Zambian players were playing for a local team, but taking their orders from the fixers to win or lose. In Central America, one of the group’s runners – Gaye Alassane – was named in the press as corrupting players.

It is the same situation in dozens of different countries like Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Turkey, Greece, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Lebanon. In Italy, the fixing syndicate was so powerful that more than 20 teams are under police investigation for fixing.

The fixers did not stop at buying up players and referees – they even organized their own tournaments. In February 2011, the syndicate arranged one of the strangest tournaments the soccer world had seen – or rather not seen. It invited the national teams of Estonia, Bulgaria, Bolivia and Latvia for an international tournament in Turkey. The games were played in near-empty stadiums. They were not televised. There were no fans. The games, however, were being bet on in the Asian gambling market.

The games were some of the strangest every played: every goal in them were scored by penalties – awarded by referees that the fixers had flown in for the tournament. These referees have subsequently been banned by FIFA.

The Officials and the Fixers


The real worry to the soccer world is that using these methods the fixers moved far up the hierarchy – well-past corrupted players and referees – to some of the very soccer officials who organize the sport. Many of the officials are innocent dupes of fixers like Perumal and Dan Tan who were excellent at insinuating themselves.

For example, at the end of the confidential FIFA South Africa report are two extraordinary photos. The first is Wilson Raj Perumal – the man responsible for getting the fixers into the South African Football Association – standing beside Michael Essien an international star-player for Ghana, Chelsea and now AC Milan. The second photo is of Gaye Alassane, one of the runners for the Dan Tan group, was arrested in Singapore, with the man who heads up European soccer – Michel Platini.


To be clear – Platini and Essien are completely innocent of any corruption and have never been suspected of fixing a match. Michel Platini’s UEFA has led the soccer world in implementing anti-match-fixing measures. Michael Essien’s integrity is unquestioned and his meeting with Wilson Raj Perumal seems one of those completely innocent shots taken in a hotel lobby. Yet the photos show the extraordinary access the gang was able to achieve inside international soccer. They posted these photos on the Internet as a way of showing their ability to meet top-level people in the sport.


In some cases, however, the fixing allegedly goes much deeper than tourist photos with famous people. In one case, Greek prosecutors when they arrested over-ninety players, referees and team owners announced that the syndicate had thought of buying an entire team in their league to have them fix on command.

"During our first match, we were paid our money at half-time when we were actually losing 0-2. We were told to concede another two goals in the second half. We were, by then, US$1,000 each richer… Players were paid approximately between US$3,000-US$4,000 each and official US$7,000 each. I was really shocked by these big monies, especially in that we were paid some good monies at half time, when we were losing and then also for failing to qualify for the quarter-finals. As we were playing I could sense there was something fishy with our approach in the games."

Testimony of the former Team manager.

From the official inquiry report into match-fixing in the Zimbabwean National Team.
According to an official Zimbabwean soccer association report, in that country the Singaporean fixers did not stop at buying a team or an occasional game, the fixers ran practically the entire organization. The report shows the fixers led by Dan Tan and Wilson Raj Perumal were working closely with dozens of players, coaches, but most importantly, a number of senior football executives and officials.  The same type of high-level football official that the Sunday Times alleges was taking money to influence the World Cup decision.

The report states that the fixers control of the organization was so complete that in one game, Wilson Raj Perumal went into the dressing room at half-time, told the coach to sit down and instructed the team how they were going to play the second half to make money for the fixers.

It is the same method that Perumal claims that he used in arranging the referee for the Egypt vs. Australia game later that year: “You go there and meet my guy [added emphasis] in the Egypt FA… I’ll call him to anticipate that you are on your way there; he’ll be waiting for you. Just try to convince the FA to use our African referees in the Egyptian League and the Bulgarian ref in the Egypt vs. Australia game.”

Perumal writes of his work in a flawed, but fascinating, self-published autobiography called Kelong Kings [Kelong is a Malay slang word for fixing. One of the flaws of the book is that it claims to be the confession of ‘the world’s most prolific match-fixer’. Perumal was very far from that title. However, it is a great perspective into the gang and I strongly recommend the book].

While in this case it is not clear that the Egyptian official knew of the corruption involved. It was abundantly clear in South Africa days before the last World Cup, that a soccer official was actively helping the fixers. These are not just the words of members of the fixing gang, but the words of a FIFA investigator who wrote a previously confidential report into the scandal.


Fixing Before the Last World Cup


According to the confidential FIFA report, the match-fixers were not just fixing games in South Africa days before the start of the last World Cup. They had help from some – as yet unknown – South African soccer official.

These officials worked in the very organization that was putting on the last World Cup tournament in South Africa. Two years later, according to the FIFA report, Dennis Mumble then-Chief Operations Officer of the South African Football Association (SAFA) pleaded for an outside investigation. He is quoted in the FIFA report saying, “…before he could implement changes within SAFA, he needed to make sure that the organisation was free of corruption.”

After a brief investigation the FIFA team found that some South African officials were working with the fixers. The report states “… This inevitably leads to the conclusion that several SAFA employees were complicit in a criminal conspiracy to manipulate these matches.”

All the South African officials interviewed admitted that Dan Tan and his people had been working with the association to organize a set of matches that senior soccer official now think were fixed. The South Africans say that the fixers were walking up and down the hallways of their national soccer stadiums. What no one will admit to is who invited the fixing gang into the South African Football Association.

"We can say from the interviews that the SAFA administration at this time was splintered and dysfunctional. SAFA had little money and was waiting for FIFA World Cup payments to help support the organization financially. The situation was ideal for the criminal organization using Football 4U to exploit these vulnerabilities and to offer money to SAFA staff, who were themselves suffering financial hardship.
Were the listed matches fixed? On the balance of probabilities, yes!"

Page 43 of FIFA Report into Match-Fixing in Pre-World Cup 2010 International Friendly Matches in South Africa.

The existence of a corrupt soccer official inside the South African soccer association is also echoed by Wilson Raj Perumal in Kelong Kings, he says, “I had a SAFA official on my pay-roll I paid him $10,000 for every game.”

After the exhibition matches were over and the last World Cup started – Wilson Raj Perumal did not leave the country. His passport states that he stayed in the county for another three weeks.


FIFA made no investigation into his – or any other member of the gang - activities during the World Cup. 
 



In his autobiography, Perumal speaks openly about approaching other referees at the tournament. “While the World Cup progressed, I did try to approach a couple of referees [sic], but my attempts were unsuccessful… I approached a referee who had already worked for me and who went on to officiate two World Cup matches. I offered him 400 thousand dollars for each of his matches, but due a previous misunderstanding, he thought that I had a loose tongue and refused my offer.”

However, it gets worse, much worse - in in the FIFA report and separate interviews, a former-South African Football Association official Adeel Carelse says that the connections between the fixers and key officials inside SAFA carried on after the World Cup was over.

In January 2011, a match was arranged in Johannesburg between the under-23 teams of Egypt and South Africa. Carelse saw both a potentially corrupted referee and members of the fixing gang at a pre-match SAFA function. He reported his concerns to his bosses and arranged for a referee unconnected with the fixers to be officiate the game. Carelse says that he was then misdirected to another stadium by a SAFA official and had to drive frantically across the city to replace the referees at the last moment.

FIFA knows


FIFA – the organization that runs the World Cup and international soccer – knows about this problem. In October 2012, Ralf Mutschke, the Head of FIFA Security, submitted the report to the South African Football Association. A bizarre and complicated process followed. First, some SAFA executives suspended many of the people named in the report, including Dennis Mumble who had been the person who had started the investigation.

Then a South African elite anti-corruption unit ‘The Hawks’ announced that they too had been conducting an investigation and that some official inside SAFA had allegedly accepted an $800,000 bribe from the fixers.

Other sports officials called for an investigation to get to the bottom of the affair and all seemed to be heading in that direction, when the South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula intervened and all SAFA officials were reinstated. In the Spring of 2013, the Sports Minister and a previously suspended official flew to Switzerland to say that FIFA was welcome to investigate the matter so long as they did not ask questions about why SAFA had been so short of money just before the start of the world’s biggest sporting tournament and all the billions of dollars that the government had spent on the World Cup.

After this meeting all investigations went into a bureaucratic limbo until the President of South Africa Jacob Zuma officially announced that there would be no investigation into which SAFA official had helped the fixers. When asked the reason for this decision Zuma’s spokesman responded, “He is the President. He does not have to give his reasons, he just states his decision and that is that.”


Currently, SAFA headquarters, next to Soccer City where the Colombia match was played, is festooned with paper notices asking players or referees to report any fixing attempts to a SAFA-sponsored anti-corruption hotline. Quite why anyone would trust SAFA, knowing that some their officials have been named for working with the fixers, is not known.


In January of this year, Ralf Mutschke, the Head of FIFA Security, finally admitted the danger posed to international football by match-fixers. In a wide-ranging interview with the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Mutschke had the courage to admit that match-fixers may be at the Brazil World Cup in 2014, they may approach players and teams and that certain key matches (third games in the opening round) may be in serious jeopardy. He outlined a number of measures that FIFA will take to protect the credibility of the sport. However, all of the new FIFA measures depend on the active help of national soccer officials – the very people whom the South African and Zimbabwean reports show to be vulnerable.

David Larkin a copyright lawyer in Washington D.C. who co-founded the group Change FIFA, believes that this strategy means problems for the world’s game: “This is an impossible position to reform soccer. It is a conflict of interest when some of the people alleged to be involved in fixing will potentially be working to clean it up.”
In April, Perumal was re-arrested in Finland for a new set of scandals. He faces extradition to Singapore. Last year, Singaporeans finally got around to arresting Dan Tan. However, he was not detained as a match-fixer but under an obscure anti-terrorist legislation. Tan has been locked up in indefinite detention with no scheduled trial, so potentially the public will never hear how far the corruption may have extended into the ranks of the soccer hierarchy.

This article was first published for my colleagues at the Play the Game website. Please see: http://tinyurl.com/mdg7hx7

[12 3 4 5  >>  

Twitter

 

Copyright © 2013 Declan Hill. All Rights Reserved.