Match-Fixing Rears Its Ugly Head Again in Soccer

uefaLess than three years after the 2006 Italian match-fixing scandal, UEFA has charged a Macedonian club with “manipulating the outcome of a UEFA match to gain undue advantage for themselves and a third party”. The charge dates back to a Champions League qualifying match in 2004 between alleged match-fixers FK Pobeda and FC Pyunik of Armenia.

UEFA president Michel Platini has said:

“If results are fixed in advance, football has no further reason to exist”

A key component of sport, and perhaps the most essential, is the uncertainty of outcome. Without this, there is no competition, no entertainment and no value in sport whatsoever. It is for the same reason that performance-enhancing drugs are completely prohibited – to preserve healthy competition and to ensure that one competitor is not given an advantage of which the other is deprived.

Perhaps the most famous occasion of match-fixing was in Italy in 2006 where several prestigious European clubs brought the football world to a standstill. Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina, SS Lazio and Reggina were found guilty of influencing the football authorities on the appointment of referees to certain games.

It cannot be denied that cheating in sport is completely unacceptable. Punishment for cheating should be severe and should act as a deterrent to prevent future offenses from occurring. However, is the current punishment ruthless enough? Evidently not.

In the summer of 2006 (just weeks after the scandal in Italy came out), the Italian national team won the FIFA World Cup. Many questioned whether Italy should have been allowed to participate in the tournament altogether in light of the revelations on match-fixing in the country.

AC Milan was originally barred from entering the 2006-2007 UEFA Champions League tournament as a result of the scandal. On appeal they were allowed to enter the competition at the Third Qualifying Round stage. They went on to win the tournament that season.

Juventus was forcibly relegated from Serie A to Serie B in Italy. They comfortably won Serie B the next season and have been competing at the top of Serie A ever since. They are also participating in the Champions League again and narrowly went out of the competition in the first knockout round stage.

Fiorentina was entitled to remain in Serie A but were docked 15 points, an amount that would supposedly have the effect of preventing them from qualifying for a European cup the next season. They ultimately finished in sixth place and qualified for the UEFA Cup.

It is clear that the punishments handed out were far too soft and lenient. The above examples merely indicate to any person considering match fixing that it is almost worth the risk of attempting to cheat. If they get away with it, then the outcome is very favorable. If they get caught, the consequences are not going to be too severe. The risk of getting caught does not necessarily outweigh the benefit of getting away with cheating.

The penalties inflicted on persons who cheat in this way need to be far more serious. The outcome must be that the guilty party is completely crippled as a result of the wrongdoing. Are punishments not handed out to deter others from future and similar misconduct? The object of deterrence is not achieved where the outcome of a punishment is that the offending party is not really punished.

In 2005 UEFA said it was planning to implement betting legislation to prevent all players, management and referees from gambling on future games. Furthermore, after this week’s announcement UEFA has said it is launching a gambling investigation unit next season, monitoring 27,000 European matches in both the first and second divisions of each national association.

It is clear however that the problem lies not in detecting where/when match-fixing occurs, but in the punishment that results when it has been established that match fixing took place. Punish the cheating party brutally and ruthlessly, and others will be scared to do the same.