30 March 2005

German Match-Fixing

A good article in Salon (ad-views required) from King Kaufman yesterday on the German match-fixing scandal, and the differences to the US situation.

Here was my letter to King:

Great article on the German referee scandal and the possibility of seeing something here.

I do think there's a couple factors you may have missed though. One is the extent to which gambling on sports is completely legal and accepted in Europe. When I started watching Premiership games, I didn't catch it at first, but then I started to understand how prevalent it was.

The big example for me: I was watching a interview with some player (sorry that I can't remember the details... though it may have been Andy Johnson from Crystal Palace). [NOTE: Pretty sure now that it wasn't AJ. Anyone remember the quote?] He was asked about his favorite goal, and talked about one he got in the FA Cup. He mentioned that he only found out that he'd be starting about 20 min before the game. So he called his dad and told him to put money down, that he would be the first player to score in the game. He knew the odds would be fantastic since he wasn't supposed to start. But his dad didn't or couldn't do it, and (as the player said) "Old Trafford at the time was the only ground without a Ladbrokes on site, so I couldn't do it myself."

I was floored when I heard that. For him, it was just an amusing anecdote. In the US, he would be Pete Rose. The gulf between the two extremes is astounding. Then you realize how much of the on-pitch advertising is for betting establishments. Go to any advertising-supported soccer site, and half the ads will be for betting. It's ubiquitous.

The other factor I'd point out is that the refs are all amateurs. I was very surprised to hear that, and I suspect that there's a very loose standard of "amateur" that gets applied to Perluigi Collina or Anders Frisk. But, as far as I understand, these guys are not making their living from the games that the referee. Easy to see how that would add to the temptation.

I believe that (american) football officials are amateurs too, right? But as you say, there are a bunch of them, and it's tough for any one guy to really throw the game. NBA and MLB refs are pros, so they're making a living for what they do. And even they don't have the capacity to influence a game like that.

Anyway, just a couple thoughts. But none of that disagrees with what you wrote, which I think was a great analysis. Hopefully Europe can figure that problem out before it washes ashore in a major event -- World Cup or something.

So. King quoted my letter today, along with a few others. It's an interesting question. Hopefully the match-fixing won't go deeper than we've seen so far.

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