The Sports Corruption Industry and the Great Cover-Up II
10,000 Hours and the Enigma of Chris Eaton
To review – there is a now an anti-match-fixing industry. It is like the post 9/11 anti-terrorist-complex in the United States, a self-generating, commercially motivated phenomenon. So in the same way it did not benefit the anti-terrorist industry for Osama bin Laden to be captured (rather they want terrorists to be out there, uncaptured – something vague and ill-defined to allow the industry to continue) – so too is it with the anti-match-fixing industry. As an industry it does not benefit if the fixers are captured or stopped, rather it benefits the industry for the fixers to carry on while they plan various activities.
Part of the reason for this situation is described by the Canadian writer and commentator Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. Gladwell writes of the need for ‘10,000 hours’ of practice before a person becomes proficient in their field. So too is it in the sports anti-corruption industry. In the first article in this series, I wrote of the generations of experts and consultants who had arisen in this field purportedly to fight against corruption in sports. I wrote about the first generation in ‘The Fix’. But now the generation that came up after the release of the book is being gradually supplanted by new arrivals.
The problem is that often just as these ‘experts’ become useful – just as they accumulate enough information and knowledge to understand the true nature of the fight, then they are pushed out of the field or marginalized. This is not accidental. The status quo does not want real change. They are helping cover-up one of the worst corruption scandals in sports, and as people begin to appreciate what is going on, they are often given the boot. The best example of this phenomenon is the career of Chris Eaton, the former head of integrity at FIFA.
In my opinion, Chris Eaton entered FIFA like a jerk and left like a lion. He made two early mistakes. The first was that he showed an inclination to downplay the work of earlier anti-corruption fighters, while touting the benefits of FIFA leading the fight against corruption in sports.
Second, Eaton gathered around him a stable of tame sports journalists. Their relationship was close, but informal. The unspoken and mostly unrealized quid pro quo between them was that Eaton would give them information and they would write articles praising Eaton as the best, and often only, fighter against sports corruption.
The problem about these paeans was that they were not true. Much of the work they ascribed to Eaton was actually the work of other people. Eaton would go visit various police match-fixing investigations to provide law enforcement with FIFA’s perspective. Then what actually happened (and I have been told the same story by a number of different police investigators) was that the press would give Eaton the credit for the police investigations. The investigators were furious. For them it was the worst of worlds, their investigations were potentially being hindered and they were not getting the proper credit for their fight against match-fixing.
However, gradually something started to happen with Eaton. As he began to acquire knowledge, he began to be aware of the true situation with match-fixing. He began to do genuinely brilliant work. Some of his team of investigators are superb. The plans and programs Eaton tried to put in place at FIFA for fighting corruption in international football are textbook examples of good preventative anti-corruption work. But it was too late. FIFA is not an organization where second-tier executives are supposed to take the media limelight from Sepp Blatter and Eaton had received far too much praise and column inches. More importantly, FIFA is not an organization that has a culture that welcomed Eaton’s excellent plans for fighting corruption. A genuine program of anti-corruption at FIFA was about as welcome as a drunk Uncle at a Mennonite wedding. So Eaton and many of his investigators were gradually shown the door at FIFA.
Now Eaton continues to fight against corruption in sports. He usually says interesting and truthful things. He should be listened to. The problem is that he is working for what many people perceive as a walking oxymoron – a Qatari anti-corruption agency. Few sports commentators, after the problems in awarding the 2022 World Cup, believe that the Qataris are disinterested in their pursuit of sports corruption. They may be, but few people believe it.
Overall, though Chris Eaton’s anti-match-fixing career mirrors what happens to many sports consultants and experts in the anti-match-fixing field – once they become aware of what is actually going on they are marginalized. This is done, in part, to protect the status quo and continue the great cover-up. More soon: