Monday, 19 November 2007

Economic dilemmas in football

While I'm here and discussing Italian footballers, I have to recommend a blog I read several times a week - Football Is Fixed. The writer is a betting markets analyst who insists that corruption is rife throughout football and that matches are regularly fixed for economic reasons. This doesn't just happen in Italy, where match-fixing has been exposed and punished - apparently Asian betting markets are worth hundreds-of-millions of pounds for each and every Premiership game, and these markets have a huge impact on what happens during each match in terms of the performance of the referee, or the performances of other key individuals (goalkeepers usually). Transfer irregularities are also rife, he insists. I'm not convinced on 100% of it, but a lot of what he says makes sense.

For example, it does strike me as odd that everybody knows about widespread performance enhancing drug use in cycling and athletics, but it's rarely mentioned in relation to football. Considering the vast sums of money in football now (dwarfing cycling and athletics), the incentives for seeking to gain such an edge are far greater. The same basic truth applies to match-fixing. Again, I think everyone knows that it is rife within cricket (as the murder - sorry, the accident! of course it was an accident! - of Bob Woolmer demonstrates) . The sums of money involved in football are so massive that it seems naive to believe that nothing of the sort takes place in moneyed-leagues like the Premiership, or in international competition. Why are characters like Gaydamak and Shinawatra buying up English football clubs, when every fan knows that the quickest way to lose a lot of money is to put it into football? Are there hidden revenue streams that we don't know about?

What always concerned me about the Scotland-Italy game is that there was only one result that UEFA wanted - an Italy victory. The value of the European Championships as a television spectacle is vastly increased by the presence of Italy rather than a small, unglamorous nation like Scotland. Not only does Italy have 10x more TV viewers than Scotland, but more neutral fans would tune in to see Italy play than Scotland, meaning advertising can be sold for a lot more. We're probably talking tens-of-millions of pounds here - is that not enough of an incentive to have a quick word in the referee's ear? When the governing body of a game has a strong vested interest in the outcome, how can we possibly be sure that the game is in fact meritocratic?

McFadden's post-game comments were enlightening as to his views on the matter:
"After all the hard work, we've been absolutely robbed by the referee. I think he was shocking. Coming from the Ukraine game, people didn't want us to qualify and they've got what they wanted."

Whoever could these "people" be that he's talking about?

1 comment:

Nick said...

My mate Chris said the same thing about the Georgia away game. If I remember right, Platini himself was in the audience on that occasion, looming over Scotland's (admittedly piss-poor) performance like a dark cloud. I bet he's a happy man now. Very shady indeed.