Betting syndicates turn their attention to League of Ireland
THE suggestion that games in Ireland might have been influenced by an international gambling syndicate will not have come as a huge surprise to observers of the game in this part of the world.
Concerns relating to the issue of betting have been a common feature of Irish football in the past decade, with the expansion of internet markets allowing punters from around the world to stake money on League of Ireland games.
There was a time when it was impossible to have single bets on domestic matches. Punters would have to group a number of fixtures together as part of an accumulator.
Now, we are in a situation where individual games involving players earning limited amounts of money can generate far larger sums through betting.
The FAI has worked hard to try and establish control of its own turf, signing agreements with bookmakers who inform them of unusual movements around specific fixtures.
It has allowed the association to monitor betting movements inside Ireland and gain the names and addresses of people with particularly active accounts.
Earlier this year, Longford Town's Colm James was banned for 18 months after he had been found guilty on six counts of breaching FAI rules associated with match integrity.
That followed a two-month betting investigation involving UEFA, FIFA and An Garda Siochana, which was actually instigated by a complaint from another player.
That was the most serious sanction that has been dished out by the FAI.
There have been other sanctions handed out for less serious offences involving breaches of FAI rules, rather than match-fixing.
Several other games have come under scrutiny in recent years without the investigations uncovering any match-rigging practices.
It is known within the League of Ireland circles that the Asian markets have been paying close attention to the Irish scene, paying observers to offer team news information and also to provide running score updates and the run of play.
But it is considerably harder for the Irish authorities to monitor betting moves outside the jurisdiction, even though they have regular contact with UEFA, FIFA and Interpol with respect to the global monitoring of the unfortunate epidemic.
English football was rocked by match-fixing allegations in the late 1990s involving ex-Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar.
He was caught on tape discussing the issue with a Malaysian businessman and was brought to court along with ex-Wimbledon pair Hans Segers and John Fashanu.
They were cleared, but their careers never recovered.
The inflation of wages has led to associated problems with gambling. Yesterday, former Premier League striker Michael Chopra told Newcastle Crown Court that his addiction had cost him £2m (€2.4m). He disclosed that Newcastle players would bet sums of £30,000 on the team bus and revealed that he had been plunged into debt as a teenager, with his family eventually threatened by loan sharks as he struggled to come up with the cash.
Chopra was speaking as a witness in a cocaine trial related to an alleged drug factory, with his personal revelations an aside to the case.
He is part of a growing list of high-profile footballers that have opened the lid on the damaging gambling culture that exists within their sport.
It extends far and wide, from Premier League players at the peak of their profession earning millions to low-ranking performers in smaller leagues who earn a pittance.
In 2008, Detlev Zenglein, an analyst appointed by FIFA to monitor betting patterns, warned that illegal gambling and match-fixing posed a bigger threat to the future of the game than doping.
"This is a bigger threat than doping because of the perception it leaves in the minds of the public," he warned.
His prediction is now coming to pass -- and the fear is that the authorities are still only uncovering the tip of the iceberg.