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Match-fixing our biggest worry now, admits Gavin

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Fran Gavin

Fran Gavin

Fran Gavin

FRAN GAVIN has pointedly stated that match-fixing is the biggest problem currently facing Irish soccer.

After a season when the game lost its innocence on the back of former Longford Town midfielder Colly James being found guilty of trying to influence a fixture, the League of Ireland director is flashing red lights in front of every player, alerting them to the severe sanctions they face if caught cheating.

"If we hear of anything untoward, we're going to go after that player and if guilty, they'll get a life ban," said Gavin.

"We aren't naive enough to think negative things won't go on in the future, so we're getting the message out there – that if a player bets on a match he is involved in, he's asking for trouble."

MURKY

In some respects, Gavin is bringing trouble onto himself by diving straight into the murky world of match-fixing and the dark presence gangland Europe plays in luring players into their web.

Yet he feels he has no other choice – and as arguably the second most important administrator in Irish soccer, his words carry weight, which was how he found himself at the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday night, chairing a seminar which outlined specific guidelines for League of Ireland players.

Tonight, the Gavin roadshow moves down to Cork, before he braves the weather to travel north to Sligo this weekend, all the while educating League of Ireland players about the storm that he, Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini are forecasting.

"This is, by some distance, soccer's biggest problem right now. That's a reality. Another reality is that players like a bet," said Gavin. "That's allowed. What isn't allowed is when they bet on their own team – or worse, if they get sucked into a sinister conspiracy where they are trying to influence a fixture.

"To date, this hasn't been a major problem in Ireland – but if we don't put our guard up, it could become serious.

"So, the players all need to know we are serious about putting a structure in place to deal with any issues which may come up.

"Players need to be educated because the trend around the world is that organised criminal gangs get behind these projects and target vulnerable players – firstly through social media, then by befriending them, then by heading to the pubs where players drink, all the while earning their trust.

"They start off small and then build it up."

That was how Cliff Marduliar was bought and sold. A Belgian international, his career was plummeting when Lierse, his club, went through a period of financial turbulence and failed to pay their players for three months. A Chinese investor arrived on the scene, promising the earth to Lierse's players.

"But the players were told that because they were sixth in the league, the club was very expensive and the players would be better off if they were lower down in the league.

"They were asked to lose a few games and before they knew it, they were on a downward spiral."

When Marduliar tried to break free of the gang, a gun was pulled and his life threatened.

Eventually the police became aware of the incident, Marduliar was arrested, found guilty and banned from the game.

"That's just one story," Gavin said. "All around Europe, these things have happened. Marduliar's story is the one I am telling our footballers.

"They have to be on their guard against organised gangs, because if they get involved, they could end up like Marduliar, in disgrace and with his career over. No one will touch him."

By reaching out in this way, however, Gavin is hoping to bring awareness to the League of Ireland players, whose low income makes them potential targets.

"Gambling is a worldwide industry and during the summer, when our league is on, very few other leagues are in action," he said.

"Gangs are out there hunting. We have to put people on their guard."

One way they will do so is by setting up a confidential hotline for players to ring.

"You look at best practice and then you say, 'what suits us'. You get feedback from players and the PFAI and common-sense tells you that a player might not want to go to somebody in his own club."

Irish Independent