McGuinness: League of Ireland vulnerable to fixers
PFAI chief believes low pay makes players ideal targets
PROFESSIONAL Footballers Association of Ireland chief Stephen McGuinness has acknowledged that the League of Ireland is vulnerable to manipulation for the purposes of betting but dismissed the suggestion that games have been fixed.
Last week, the alleged match-fixer arrested as part of an investigation into the English lower leagues claimed that he had the power to influence games in Ireland.
McGuinness was unhappy that fingers were pointed at the League of Ireland on the basis of comments from an unknown individual but accepts that the general issue of gambling is a cause for concern.
The PFAI have worked with the global players' union, FIFPro, on a programme called 'Don't Fix It' which is tackling a worldwide problem.
This week, 11 men in Estonia were charged on suspicion of fixing 17 games between June 2011 and November 2012, with Europa League matches also involving Lithuanian and Ukrainian clubs brought into the enquiry.
Ireland is viewed as a high-risk country because it is a league where players earn small amounts of money.
"We think the league is very vulnerable because the wages that are paid are quite low, and the timing of the season where there's not a lot of games in the summer when our games are on," said McGuinness.
"The First Division don't have any live TV games so we always feel we're vulnerable. The big target area (globally) seems to be where clubs haven't been paid or players haven't been paid."
Longford's Colm James was handed an 18-month ban earlier this year for breaching FAI rules related to match integrity, an investigation which was fuelled by a complaint from another player.
McGuinness believes that no matches have been fixed for the simple reason that the football community in Ireland is too small and it would be impossible to keep a lid on any indiscretion.
"I don't think anything could happen in this league without someone finding out about it," he said.
However, while he is sure that the outcome of every match has been legitimate, he concedes that a difficult area is the number of bets available on a game that can be affected by one player without assistance from a group.
"I think to rig a game, I don't know how anybody can fix a game for any set results and be 100pc sure what's going to happen," he continued.
"But you can back on everything now. You can be damn sure that you can get a red card if you're an individual player. You can have a goalkeeper influence whether there will be more than three goals. They're the type of bets (that could pose a problem)."
McGuinness says that the PFAI have to deal with the problem by educating their members. They will inform members who use social media to speak about their interest in gambling – even if it's on other sports – that they are more likely to be targeted by potential fixers.
"When Interpol spoke to us, they told us that the (fixers) seem to search through Twitter and Facebook to see what players are speaking about betting," he explained.
"They look at their background, what team they play for, pick a match and then go after them, that's how it's done."
A series of conferences run in conjunction with the FAI will be staged before the beginning of next season to fully inform players of the dangers.
"I think we have just got to be vigilant and not just sit back and say, 'ah no, we don't have an issue with it'," said McGuinness. "I think players have to be aware of the stigma that is attached to it. It's not just the bet itself, it's the stigma that's attached.
"People speak about alcohol but I think gambling is nearly worse, it affects families, can affect people's lives. It's something that's a culture within football and fellas fall into it.
"FIFPro has put it (gambling) as priority No 1 at the moment on their agenda. They think it's a massive problem across Europe. We would like to think it's not a problem in our country, but that's not the say that it can't be."