The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime (2008)
Through interviews with soccer officials, athletes, and fixers, Dr. Declan Hill explains how match-fixing functions and the factors that contribute to its success, like sports clubs’ exploitation of player labor, officials accepting sex and gifts as bribes, and a prevailing atmosphere of trust, violence, and fear. Hill’s exploration shows how prevalent match fixing is, through mostly Asian and European fixers. Fixers communicate with corrupt players through an elaborate network of “middle men” who use non-verbal cues, like wearing certain colors or saluting the crowd in a particular way during games, to signal to players if they should play hard or intentionally lose.
This has had a devastating affect on Asian soccer. Hill says match-fixing is so pervasive in Asia, support for local soccer clubs dried up. Match-fixing destroyed the game’s credibility, and as a result, fan interest. In fact, match-fixing is so normalized in some teams’ cultures,"cheating had become second nature” (p. 119).
But under what conditions would athletes, who have spent their lives striving for excellence, agree to intentionally lose? It's when they are underpaid. If they perceive that their administrators and officials are exploiting their labor, players are more likely to negotiate with match fixers, Hill said. Plus, if they are facing a stronger team that is likely to win anyway, why not lose, but make several thousands of dollars more than they would have otherwise? Match-fixers approach athletes under the guise of friendship, showing concern for their situation and family obligations. But this collegiality evaporates once the business relationship is established. An omerta follows, making investigation into organized crime in sport difficult. And dangerous.
How organized crime crossed into sport varies by situation, Hill said. In Russia, for example, the country’s once-proud sporting machine was crumbling in the 1990s. As a way of aiding impoverished sports clubs, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin allowed clubs to import alcohol and tobacco duty-free. An unintended consequence of this was that sports clubs gained a commercial advantage over legitimate importers. Russian mobsters took control of sports clubs as a way of accessing these tax advantages.
Overall, the information in this book is disturbing. It was dangerous to collect, which makes it all the more important. Even if you are not a soccer fan, read it. Organized crime's infiltration of sport is something all sports fans – regardless of sport – should understand. My only beef with the book is that it was published in 2008 – before the 2015 FIFA corruption case, among a legion of events that Hill’s investigation, among others, undoubtedly helped bring to light. I would like to see another volume, covering what's happened since then. I suspect Hill’s recommendations, though, would be similar to what they were in 2008: To cut down on corruption, pay the athletes more and hire more female officials. Though Hill said some athletes would accept bribes no matter how much money or status they had, most of them would not if they were paid better. And officials are bribed with sex, to the extent that having a beautiful woman “provided for them” is par the course. This would be harder to maintain if officials were not predominantly heterosexual males.
Hill published another book in 2013, The Insider's Guide to Match-Fixing in Football, that I intend to read next. Hopefully, I will not have to wait as long to get this one as I did The Fix: So many people in my community wanted it, I had to get on my library's waiting list.
Considering the book was published 10 years ago, that's saying something.