x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The corrupt game?

Match-fixing in football, in Europe and around the world, demands serious attention from the sport's governing body.

Around the world, countless men and women turn to spectator sport for a diverting respite from life's travails, seeking the vicarious pleasure of seeing their favourites win the big match.

But professional sport also attracts professional gamblers, who are after more tangible rewards. One result is match fixing, a cancer that keeps recurring in many sports, notably football, threatening to turn the beautiful game into the rotten one.

The problem is widespread but returned to the world's headlines after the European police force Europol reported that a Singapore-based crime ring induced at least 425 officials and players to throw over 680 matches, some at high levels, between 2008 and 2011. About 150 of the tainted contests involved national teams. Over €2 million (Dh9.8 million) in bribes produced profits four times as high, Europol said.

Fifa, football's world governing body, has been distressingly casual about this plague, noting serenely that only a "small percentage" of matches are affected. It would be nice to be able to be sure of that.

How to rescue the game is, unfortunately, not evident. Big salaries in some leagues do at least drive up the cost of corruption, but in many countries players are paid little, and late, making conditions right for bribery. Some forms of statistical analysis, plus vigilance and transparency can all help, but better means of prevention must also be found.