World football governing body FIFA needs to do more to deal with the illegal gambling rackets tainting the integrity of the game, according to the investigator who brought down a match-fixing ring operating in the U.K.
Speaking at the Global Compliance Solutions Anti-Money Laundering and Financial Crime Conference in the Cayman Islands on Friday, Terry Steans said match fixing is rife in world football, including the Caribbean and Central American region.
He told the Journal the racket went right to the top of the professional game, with top flight matches in Spain and Italy previously implicated in fixing scandals.
But he said the main focus for criminal gangs are matches away from the crowds and the cameras featuring lower-paid players with more incentive to make a quick buck by throwing a game.
Even low-profile matches in the Australian leagues and semiprofessional games in the U.K. conference division attract huge interest in underground Asian betting markets.
“There are millions of people in Asia betting on these games,” said Steans.
“There are people in China who could reel off Stevenage’s team sheet,
It is these games – where the players wages are low and the money bet is high – that are most susceptible to abuse, says Steans. And he believes FIFA needs to put more resources into addressing it.
“It is not a bloodless crime. I’ve seen lives ruined by match fixing.”
He said in Asia, Africa and parts of the Americas, football is a way out of poverty for thousands of young men.
He said many had seen their hopes and dreams as well as their careers ruined by fixers who preyed on their circumstances and bribed them to throw games.
Buying off a handful of key players, sometimes for as little as $10,000, can often be enough to fix the score of a match, allowing criminal gangs to make millions in betting profits.
“If they get the captain and a couple of key defenders, then that can be enough. It is never guaranteed. What they are doing is increasing the odds in their favor.”
Steans made headlines in the U.K. when he successfully infiltrated a Singapore-based organization and helped police obtain evidence of a plot to fix non-league football matches in England.
Chann Sankaran and Krishna Sanjey Ganeshan were jailed for five years, while Michael Boateng, a 22-year-old footballer with non-league Whitehaven FC. was jailed for 16 months for conspiring to fix matches.
Steans said he and his colleagues at the International Center for Sports Security in Qatar had targeted the duo after a tip from the Singapore police, and gained their trust by paying $16,000 for a tip on a game in Australia’s Melbourne Premier League. He said the fixers successfully predicted the score of the game – a 3-1 loss for the home team – and a relationship was established.
“He told us of fixes he had put on in Belgium, Australia, in Africa, international friendlies. He said he could fix a game anywhere in the world.”
After several months of negotiations, a sting was set up. First, the Daily Telegraph newspaper, and later the National Crime Agency in the U.K., got involved, and the two businessmen were secretly filmed claiming to be able to fix matches for $70,000. Boateng, who was described as a “willing recruit,” was recorded agreeing to take cash to manipulate games, including getting himself sent off if necessary.
He is the only player convicted so far in connection with the plot, but police said at the time they believed the Singapore fixers were trying to recruit more.
Richard Warner, an NCA branch commander, told the Telegraph: “The NCA is in no doubt that Ganeshan and Sankaran were at the very beginning of a concerted attempt to build a network of corrupt players in the U.K.”
Steans says he has seen no evidence of fixing in the English Premier League so far, but he insists no one is immune.
“I can’t watch professional football anymore. For five years I have investigated the people involved in match fixing. If I see a bad refereeing decision or a mistake, I can’t just see it as a mistake like everyone else. You are always wondering.
“When you see something like that, you have a gut feeling, but there is no concrete way to be sure. There’s no body, no crime scene, no paper trail. The only people that know are the players and the fixers, that’s what makes it hard to investigate. Football is an ambiguous game anyway – a mistake, a bad bounce or a refereeing decision can decide the outcome. It’s one of the things people love about it.”