Match fixer alleges he could ‘do’ World Cup ties involving Ireland if required
Britain’s Fifa vice-president branded match-fixing “a cancer” that must be eradicated from the game after the UK’s new FBI-style crime agency charged two men with fraud that may have included the rigging of World Cup ties.
At least three players and an agent were also bailed by the National Crime Agency following their arrest in the wake of a Daily Telegraph investigation into the biggest alleged match-fixing scandal in English football for decades.
One of the alleged fixers claimed in a covertly recorded conversation that he had manipulated World Cup qualifiers and named Scotland and the Republic of Ireland among the countries he said he could “do” if required. Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce admitted he was “very, very concerned” about any suggestion World Cup matches might have been corrupted.
Speaking exclusively to The Daily Telegraph, he said: “Match-fixing is a very serious problem and is one that has to be tackled at the very highest level. Anyone found guilty will be banned for life.
“Fifa has many investigators working throughout the world to try to erode the game of this cancer. It has got to be stamped out.”
Boyce was confident Fifa would cooperate fully with the NCA in its investigation. “They’ve got to take this seriously and they’ve got to find out whatever information they possibly can,” he said.
The Scottish Football Association and Football Association of Ireland both insisted there was no indication any of their national team matches had been compromised.
The SFA said: “We await communication from the relevant authorities to establish if there is any evidence to substantiate this allegation.
“We have an early-warning system in place to monitor suspicious betting patterns and no issues have been raised in that regard.”
The FAI said: “We have regular contact with this issue with Uefa, Europol and Interpol and none of them have indicated any Irish connection at this stage.”
The matches believed to have been affected in England took place in non-League football. The Government and FA were yesterday both accused of failing to do enough to combat one of sport’s biggest scourges, with a leading authority on the subject claiming the authorities had been “complacent” about the prospect of fraudsters infiltrating the English game.
Ministers were also urged to plough public money into the fight against match-fixing in the same way as the Government does with the battle against drugs in sport, in addition to regulating the gambling industry more tightly.
Those calls were led both by former Premier League and Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry, who chaired the Sports Betting Integrity Panel in 2010 which made similar recommendations, and representatives of the country’s biggest sporting governing bodies.
The Sports Betting Group includes figures from the FA, Premier League, Rugby Football Union, England and Wales Cricket Board and British Horseracing Authority.
It emerged on Thursday that its chairman, Sport and Recreation Alliance chief executive Tim Lamb, had repeatedly lobbied the Government for both funding and legislation to no avail.
With a new Gambling Bill going through parliament which should net additional £300 million in tax revenue from bookmakers, Lamb believes ministers will soon have no excuse for dragging their heels.
“We raised this issue with the sports minister two weeks ago and, while a bill is currently going through parliament that will bring about some improvements, there is still much more to do,” he said.
“We have long held serious doubts about whether the police and Crown Prosecution Service have the appropriate legal and financial resources to deal with the match-fixing effectively.
“Confusion and inconsistencies in the legal and regulatory environment are hampering efforts to tackle this blight on sport.
“There is still time to make changes and improvements to this law – but the Government needs to act now.
“Resources and funding are also an issue. The fight against anti-doping currently receives around £6 million in public funding. The fight against match-fixing gets nothing.”
Parry echoed Lamb’s sentiments, having seen his efforts three years ago lead to the formation of the Gambling Commission’s Sports Betting Intelligence Unit but no public funding for it.
Shadow sports minister Clive Efford also hit out at the Government for voting against his proposed amendments to the Gambling Bill that he said would help prevent match-fixing.
Maria Miller, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, said: “Match-fixing undermines the integrity of sport across the world and we will do all we can to help stamp it out.”
Parry questioned how seriously the FA had taken previous allegations of match-fixing and criticised its response to suspicious betting patterns in non-League games earlier this year.
He said: “Writing to the clubs, reminding them of their responsibilities, is a 1920s FA response, isn’t it? If someone’s betting large amounts on a Hornchurch game, that’s a pretty clear suggestion something may be badly wrong.”
Former Fifa head of security Chris Eaton, now director of sport integrity at the International Centre for Sport Security, said: “It was only a matter of time before the English game was caught up in this global wave of match-fixing in football.”
He added: “What is new is that it shocks a complacent England, the home of the game. That shock should be used to galvanise international efforts to regulate and supervise sport betting globally, which is the real motivation for modern match-fixing.”