¿Match fixing has always existed in football, and there are big international players involved.¿
African Cup of Nations: Burkina Faso coach Paul Put back in the spotlight as match-fixing cloud hangs over football
Burkina Faso coach says big players involved in corruption
DURBAN // The long shadow of match fixing turned darker across all of the world's most popular sport on Monday morning.
There may have been a frustrating lack of detail behind Europol's stunning announcement at a press conference in The Hague that over 600 professional matches had attracted suspicion as possibly corrupted by betting syndicates, but their perception of the scale of the crisis certainly surprised.
Europol's declarations coincided with the business end of the African Cup of Nations. There are individuals around this tournament, which concludes on Sunday, with direct experience of the sophisticated modus operandi of the fixers and some knowledge that this sort of corruption is more widespread than many senior figures in the game suppose.
Take the South African Football Association (Safa). The host body for this Afcon have become painfully aware over the past 12 months the need for vigilance.
Five of their senior executives, including the president Kirsten Nematandani, the chief executive Dennis Mumble, the former head of national teams Lindile "Ace" Kika, and the former head of referees Adeel Carelse have just returned to work at Safa following their suspensions after a Fifa report into four pre-2010 World Cup friendlies involving the South Africa team found the referees in those matches had been corrupted.
The ringleader in that, and several other cases of match fixing was the infamous Singaporean Wilson Raj Perumal, who is now in a Hungarian prison.
His company, Football4U, promoted the friendlies, against Bulgaria, Colombia, Guatemala and Thailand, and while doing so persuaded Safa to leave Football4U in charge of providing the referees. Safa thus breached article 13 of Fifa's statutes.
It has since become clear the referees had been paid to guide the outcome of the matches to a pre-arranged plan that suited the betting syndicates of Perumal's associates.
Fifa's investigation found the Safa officials to be "at the very least … either easily duped or extremely foolish", while stating "there is a very real possibility … that some were involved and were corrupted".
The fact they returned to their desks pending the results of a Safa and South African Ministry of Sport commission of inquiry and an investigation by the South African anti-corruption body, The Hawks, has raised fears here that, once the Afcon is over, Safa will try to quietly sweep the whole affair under the carpet without sufficient scrutiny of its own accountability.
Meanwhile, in the African Nations Cup tournament itself, the underdog rise of Burkina Faso, who took on Ghana in the semi-final last night, has brought their head coach Paul Put into the limelight.
The Belgian was found complicit in a match-fixing scandal that hit top-flight Belgian football eight years ago, when he was managing Lierse.
He was banned in his home country, which is partly why he forged a career elsewhere, his successful work with the Gambia national team leading to his appointment with the Burkinabe.
Put heard with interest what Europol had to say. His contention has always been he was unfairly singled out for punishment in Belgium.
Ahead of last night's game, he painted a bleak picture of both the chilling methods of fixers and the difficulties of finding a cure for the problem.
"I was under physical threat, so were my children," he told a press conference.
"Match fixing has always existed in football, and there are big international players involved."