How Do You Fix a Soccer Game?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Dec. 9 2011 6:18 PM

How Do You Fix a Soccer Game?   

With a runner and a few beards.

BLACKBURN, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 17: Robbie Savage of Blackburn takes a dive under pressure from Sylvain Distin of Manchester City during the Barclays Premiership game between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City at Ewood Park on September 17, 2006 in Blackburn, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
How often do soccer players "take a dive" to throw a game?

Photograph by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images.

Ninety-three soccer players and team officials were indicted in Turkey on Friday for match-fixing. FIFA authorities are investigating the national teams of Cuba, Grenada, and El Salvador for the same thing. European officials are trying to squelch speculation that a couple of wild results in the prestigious Champions League tournament on Wednesday were the result of a fix. How do you rig a soccer game?

Buy off a star player and let him deal with his teammates. In The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime, journalist Declan Hill described the shady world of match-fixing. Fixers hire a “runner”—a local go-between with connections in the league. He’s often a former athlete looking to augment his post-playing-career income. He identifies a top player who is susceptible to a buyoff. Maybe the player has gambling debts of his own, or perhaps he’s going through an expensive divorce. The runner passes him a lump of cash and promises more if he gets the desired result. If the player fails, however, the fixers will come after him. The player is then responsible for distributing the money among teammates who are willing to play along. It usually takes four or five players to ensure a loss. Fixers sometimes try to buy the collusion of referees, but it’s a less reliable strategy since there’s only so much a ref can do to influence a game without being obvious.

In order to make money on the deal, the fixer has to make huge bets. They usually work through the Asian gambling markets, which deal in far greater volumes than any sports betting networks in Europe or the United States. (There are more deals per day on Asian sports betting markets than on the New York Stock Exchange.) But even in those markets large bets may attract the attention of watchdogs like Betradar, and eventually the authorities. Fixers hide from scrutiny by hiring “beards” to place many smaller bets on their behalf. (In the 19th century, fixers actually wore beards to the betting windows to conceal their identities.) Then, they start a whispering campaign that the fix is in, but that the game is rigged in the opposite direction. The false rumors bring in bets against their position, making the overall betting patterns appear more reasonable.

Advertisement

How common is this scam? It’s not clear. There’s plenty of evidence that Asian fixers regularly rig games in smaller countries and the lower-tier leagues of major countries. Hill claims that a smaller number of games have been fixed in the World Cup, major European top-flight divisions, and the Champions League as well. But Hill’s book is controversial, and some soccer-watchers aren’t so sure that this is a major problem in the top leagues.

A different sort of fix, however, is common. As in any league sport, games at the end of the season might only matter to one of the two teams involved. Disinterested players have conceded games to their opponents, sometimes in rather obvious fashion. It’s often done as a matter of professional courtesy, and no one has to tell the players what to do. But bribery isn’t unheard of. In 1993, for example, Marseille was caught paying opponent Valenciennes to roll over.

The term “match-fixing” is slightly overused. The most famous case of soccer corruption of the last few years was the Italian Calciopoli scandal of 2006. Juventus and other big clubs made it known that they could harm the careers of unfriendly referees, and even bought SIM cards for off-the-record conversations with refs. While it’s often referred to as “match-fixing,” these practices are closer to influence peddling—trying to tilt the close calls in your favor.

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks author Declan Hill and Gabriele Marcotti, world soccer columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?