Your winnings Mr. Blatter

FIFA and UEFA threaten to turn football into Kayfabe

Here are some facts I can say for certain:

There have also been convictions in other sports, such as the NBA, baseball, hockey, rugby, boxing, and cricket. All of which is to say that corruption exists in sports. And it has been that way since the first athlete took a dive in the first Olympic games.

The problem is these scandals are becoming more common place every year, the investigations more superficial, and the money at stake exponentially larger such that it threatens to undermine the very belief in football. To turn it into what professional wrestling refers to as “kayfabe” or just a show, a suspension in disbelief.

It’s already so bad that we have started wondering out loud whether certain things that happen on the pitch and in the halls of the FA, UEFA, and FIFA are the actions of corrupt officials. To be clear, I am not accusing anyone of corruption but who among you has not heard from numerous sources various questions about the governing bodies?

For example, how many people believe that Qatar bribed their way to host the World Cup? Few will say it in print, because they are afraid of repercussions, but I’ve had plenty of conversations with plenty of people who will say it outright in person and who may even say it here in the comments on this blog. I’m not saying that Qatar bribed FIFA to host the World Cup. What I’m saying is that the belief that they did matters, because it means that a significant number of people don’t have faith in the authorities who are charged with policing our game.

When it pours it Rains

Baseball suffered a series of match-fixing scandals from the later part of the 19th century up until the infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919. Corruption in baseball was widespread in that period and it took some harsh rules, harsh punishments, and an iron-fisted commissioner to stamp it out.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis was elected commissioner of baseball in 1920 and immediately enacted a rule whereby no player is allowed to gamble on baseball, ever. Moreover, any player or official who is even approached must report immediately to the authorities or suffer a lifetime ban from the sport. If a man like Kenesaw Mountain Landis was head of FIFA would Antonio Conte be a manager right now? I don’t know, but I do know that he is tipped to be the next manager of Chelsea. In so doing, he would bring a scandal-ridden career to the English Premier League. Exactly the kind of thing that should never be allowed to happen.

And for the average fan, there’s always the suspicion that a referee has it out for your team. For example, Mike Dean’s record refereeing Arsenal games is, bar none, the strangest record I have seen in professional sport. In the last 20 times Mike Dean has refereed an Arsenal match, the Gunners have only won twice and have never been awarded a penalty despite many clear-cut fouls in the area. Surely this is just coincidence but even still, the League’s refusal to introduce technology such as Instant Replay officiating, or change the Laws exacerbates a public perception that officials are influencing games. And whether that’s through corruption or bias is irrelevant.

In addition to the weak ways that FIFA and UEFA deal with allegations of corruption among coaches like Conte and the way that they refuse to bring the game into the 21st century, there’s too much room for error in the way the laws are written: the offside laws are bizarre, these ideas of “intent” and “aggression” are antiquated, the way that advantage is handled is one of the easiest ways that an official could cheat, and officials are afforded far too much protection post match. FIFA, UEFA, and the FA need to re-write or at least re-jigger the Laws of the Game.

I’d start by banning gambling, the nexus from which all of this corruption spews. Any player, coach or official who gambles on any football match is banned for a year; anyone who gambles on their own team is banned for life; anyone who is approached by anyone to throw a match and refuses to report it is also banned for life.

Then I’d fix the offside rule. Simplify it so that even Tony Pulis can understand it. This active/inactive stuff just confuses everyone and while I understand the intent of the rule, the implementation is just disastrous. Why are we arguing over whether a player is inactive? Why is a player allowed to be offside at all? To increase scoring? Well, then why have an offside rule?

So too with whether a player “meant to do” something. Who cares if Taylor meant to break Eduardo’s leg? He lunged, studs up, over the ball, and did break Eduardo’s leg. Surely that’s a red card. Why is this not codified somewhere? And I don’t mean in the mealy-mouthed way that it’s written now.

Similarly, the advantage rule is the one rule that I feel gives referees too much leeway in terms of effecting games. Arsenal, for example, are often gifted “advantage” when the opposition fouls an Arsenal player in the middle of the park or even in their own defensive third. That “advantage” almost never turns into a goal because it’s not an actual advantage. Conversely, the same official will almost always stop play for the same infraction when Arsenal commit a foul against a long ball team, regardless of where the infraction occurs because stoppage of play actually does gift that team an advantage. Advantage should only be given when the attacking team has a clear chance at goal.

An finally, Major League Soccer introduced post-match refereeing of games last season and it has been a success. If you refuse instant replay because it will slow the game down then at the very least you have to do what MLS has done and look at the tapes of all games and punish players retroactively for red-card offenses.Officials get things wrong, it’s OK to admit that they are not Gods.

With the unveiling of Europol’s incredible allegations, World football is suffering from it’s very own Black Sox scandal and it is teetering on the edge of being about as believable as Professional Wrestling. What football needs is a time machine to get itself out of the 19th century in regards to the Laws of the game, technology, corruption, and gambling. It needs a Kenesaw Mountain of a man to lead the game into the new era. Sadly, it has Platini and Blatter.


32 thoughts on “FIFA and UEFA threaten to turn football into Kayfabe

  1. +5 Vote -1 Vote +11NiltotheArsenal

    I just really love this game, and this is totally depressing, but I wanted to be the first to laud you on another well-written and thought provoking piece. More later…

  2. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1Zeddington

    Kenesaw Mountain Landis is just about the coolest name I’ve ever heard. It brings to mind images of Teddy Roosevelt, a bear of a man in spirit and physique. Oh, the good old days, when people used to be called names like Kenesaw Mountain Landis…

    Sorry to digress.

  3. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Yan

    Good one Tim. It seems that not a lot of blogs are willing to write on this subject (or I am missing something).

    There’s only one good reason that logic tells us for not implementing technology in the game: so you can tip results to whatever side must win in the day.

  4. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1GiantCalGunner

    your Qatar bit above resonates, and reminds me of a great post Bill Simmons made on the other day… “Daring to Ask the PED Question”… check it out Tim. Another good post today, thanks.

    1. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1craig

      exactly right. That was the best thing I’ve ever seen on Grantland. Untold Arsenal has been doing a lot on this as well, and plenty of people hate them for it, but some things just aren’t possible and someone has to have the courage to say it.

  5. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Uncle Mike

    Kenesaw Mountain Landis may have stabilized the game, but he was evil. He should have reinstated the Black Sox, and other players he’d banned for crimes, after they were acquitted of said crimes. He was also a notorious racist. It’s no accident that the first black player in the modern game, Jackie Robinson, was signed about one year after Landis’ death.

    Let’s also remember the examples of American football superstars Paul Hornung and Alex Karras. In 1963, 50 years ago, they admitted to betting on games, and Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended them indefinitely, reinstating them after one year. The next year, Karras was a captain for the Detroit Lions, and the referee asked him to make the call at the pregame coin toss, and he said, “I can’t, I’m not allowed to bet.” Although he remained a great defensive lineman (and later became a beloved actor before his death last year), he has never been elected to the Hall of Fame. Hornung (who is still alive) was elected, but it took a long time, much longer than it should have for one of the great all-around talents of the game.

    1. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

      I knew someone would bring up Landis’ racism and it’s a fair enough criticism. I suppose I should have said something about it and I could have done a whole section just on FIFA, UEFA, and Landis’ compliance with racism. Lord knows I’ve written extensively about Blatter’s statements about racism and FIFA and UEFA’s compliance in sweeping the rampant racism in Europe and Asia under the rug. But I didn’t because it seemed off topic.

      No one who has read my writings seriously thinks I want FIFA to hire a racist but if there is proof that there were 680 matches fixed, then we are talking about an existential crisis in football. In that case, the only thing that will actually fix the game is some LIKE Landis who will not shirk the responsibility needed to rebuild the game.

  6. +13 Vote -1 Vote +1Davsta

    So where are we now then? On the brink of change wherein the game is transformed back to a sport and everyone challenges for honours fair and square. Or a few words in the British media about the corruption at FIFA & UEFA and those cheating inferior leagues across Europe and beyond.
    I believe that the broadcasters and written media are essential to the corruption of football.
    Remember the crazy horse shit flung about the place with the Eduardo ‘dive’ against Celtic?
    Last seasons Blackburn vs Manure game where the linesman flagged for a goal kick when Blackburn had the ball in Manure’s net, midweek game, cameras everywhere and yet after at least 90 secs the only replay shown was the top of the gantry shot that didn’t prove the ball on or off the pitch before it was crossed. Then in the same game Yakubu taken out by Manure defender at near post when presented with tap in. No replay of a fine last ditch tackle or the dead cert pen that it was. Manure won 0-2 and took the title race all the way, Blackburn were robbed and relegated.
    The English game will protect itself in the usual “can’t take one bent individual down without bringing the whole house down and you don’t really want that do you?” routine.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Dick Swiveller

      Or, indeed, the winning goal in the Manchester derby not so long after Santi was pulled up for his dive…Rafael felt a bit of contact and flopped to the floor for the winning free-kick. Nobody mentioned it.

      It makes things a little less interesting, knowing that certain teams have to play *that* much better to win and certain teams will usually get a leg-up. Having said that, United don’t seem to be getting it quite so easy this season. It’s still the same game in everything else though, plenty of good matches and everything you want from sports.

  7. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1marek

    Tim wrote: “Officials get things wrong, it’s OK to admit that they are not Gods.”

    One thing that needs to change, and that can be changed without changing any rules, is exactly the attitude that referees can’t allow themselves to admit a mistake, because then their God-like authority on the field will suffer.

    Factually speaking, referees can’t be omniscient and omnipotent on the field. There are two ways to respond to this obvious fact. Either you accept that the ref is the ref and his word is final, regardless of truth, replays etc., or you have to agree that the ref will be questioned, proven wrong with replay evidence etc., in which case it is time to throw off the cloak of invulnerability and accept that refs make plenty of mistakes and some are serious enough to warrant correction, in-game or otherwise.

    The first method has one thing going for it – absolute clarity as to who’s boss. Everything else about it sucks, including the possibility of corruption without any good recourse. The second method also has one thing going for it – it is inevitable, at least since the advent of instant replay, so the powers that be might as well adjust to it.

  8. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1ArsenalAndrew

    Great article – well written.

    As you say, it’s not that anyone is necessarily claiming corruption on the part of officials but the lack of transparency and accountability immediately raising suspicions which is undermining and compromising for the entire footballing industry, top to bottom.

    1. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Joe

      I will in the immortal words of someone or other if it walks like a duck quacks like a duck it’s probable a duck. I am starting to feel what’s the point I turn up to watch the Arsenal or watch them on tv knowing that it’s likely that a ref or linesman will make currupt intervention. When you stop and think about it it does not matter how much we spend on players they will ether end up with broken legs or badly injuryed because the refs won’t protect them from thugs Or make sure we don’t win game with decisions on the pitch which they don’t have to defend any time or any where.

  9. +9 Vote -1 Vote +1Paul-N

    One thing, I don’t think Mike Dean is some coincidence. That man celebrated when the Spuds scored against us. It could be extreme bias, but something is up with that guy. No stats can be that warped by coincidence if you ask me.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Zeddington

      Generally speaking I don’t think it’s helpful to point to specific incidents because there is no way for us to know what is incompetence and what is genuinely curious. Longer trends, like Mike Dean’s record, are probably useful, but even so we’ll really need to look at those specific matches and see what comes up.

      Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but the linesman at Stoke was very ‘incompetent’. For the repeated non-fouls against Theo, to the goal that he tried to cancel off. I’d have a look at that one myself. Apparently he has priors too, I read?

  10. +5 Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    So I had a long lunch today with two Chinese-Canadians friends. We discussed this issue among other topics over great dim sum and so-so congee. Next time we eat Indian.

    As an Indo-Canadian, I can only speak first hand of India and cricket, but it is my belief that betting and corruption is systemic in Asian sports/business.

    Specifically, the white elephant in the room with this discussion is Chinese betting. To listen to these guys talk, what the media is uncovering is the tip of the iceberg. You want conspiracy theories? I have asked these guys to share their perspectives and opinions first hand on this blog. I hope they take the time to do so.

    So some highlights from lunch:
    - There is resistance to video technology specifically because of match-fixing.
    - The huge following Manchester United has all over Asia has implications that will get some big names in serious trouble.
    - Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have also all been affected, Chelsea especially.
    - Certainly some of the questions we’ve asked regarding questionable officiating have their answer within this unfolding scandal.

    All we can do is wait and see to what if any truth there may be to these allegations. It may turn out that the biggest cheat of all is the very sport itself.

  11. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Jon

    I’ve only got a couple of disagreements (I’m broadly in agreeement)
    One of the other sports I follow is cricket which has had major corruption scandals. But it has introduced many of the reforms you suggest; no gambling, no contact with gamblers, failure to report attempted contact is itself wrong. But more than that recently have been actual criminal prosecutions and convictions, as well as life time bans.
    In a way then the Europol investigation may actually be a good thing, if FIFA and UEFA won’t act, then maybe the police will.

    My only disagreement really is over the off side law, it’s not that difficult and I do have a proposal, any and I mean ANY manager DUMB enough to claim that they don’t understand the off side law should have all their badges revoked immediately and they should be jeered out of the country.

    post match video analysis, not a problem for rugby, god yes – in-game video aid for referees, also yes but that has to be based on more openess on the performance of referees, there should be public and objective assessment of referees so people know who are the good ones and can point to objective stats rather than rumour. We have it for doctors & teachers about time we had it for referees too.

    I think it’s worth pointing out that since the introduction of video technology in cricket, the standard of refereeing has gone UP – but not consistently, the last England India test series, where video technology was not used, had way more umpiring mistakes than had become the norm.

    1. +8 Vote -1 Vote +1Shard

      It’s kind of an open secret here in India that fixing is very much present in cricket. Including India’s World Cup victory. Though since I don’t follow cricket that closely, I’m loath to say that it is true.

      You are right though, about how technology has helped. Although, in fairness it is slightly easier to apply tech to cricket since the questions to be answered generally have a definite yes or no answer, rather than the subjective calls required for football.

      I’m not sure, but I think there is already a rule, at least in English football, whereby the players aren’t allowed to bet on football. Wilshere was supposed to be some hot water because of some tweet where he put forth a bet on something. The punishment, even if there is to be one, is not a ban though. It is only a fine. At least, I think.

      There is no doubt in my mind that there is some sort of fixing going on in football, including in English football. There is too much money involved, with too little regulation, and too many weird refereeing performances for it not to be so. Also, as Davsta pointed out above, television is a part of it. The replays of certain errors (such as those favouring ManU) are sometimes not shown, or shown from angles which are inconclusive. Moreover, having been in England and seeing how most people experience football, made me understand how TV plays a cover-up role. Since all matches aren’t televised, most people rely on programs like SSN or MOTD to form their opinion on the matches, especially those not involving their team. The highlights chosen for these programs often present a false picture of the game.

    2. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Shard

      Oh, and as for the police taking action, I wouldn’t count on it. Money talks. Cricket, for however much publicity it generates is nowhere near as profitable, or as large, a business as football. Two Pakistani players may have spent some time in jail for ‘spot fixing’, but what about any probe into ex-Southampton captain Lundekvam’s claims on a Swedish(?) TV program that many players in the EPL indulged in spot fixing to make some extra money? Fifa initiated an internal probe into it, and since then nothing has been heard of it.

  12. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1GoonerAU

    Great post Tim. There’s an article today in my local paper by a player who played in Asia who was surrounded by corruption in the sport.

    I have been wanting to post something, just to get it off my chest but there are many things about the game that are deplorable, and they seem to be the things that the ‘true’ fans appear to love the most, I must be a shit football fan. You’re spot on that the lack of video replay’s are admission of guilt by the powers that be, why else don’t they want them shown? All other sports will have almost 100′s of replays of the defining points in a match, be it cricket, rugby, tennis (Hawk-Eye, the technological saviour of the game, has taken most of the controversy out of this sport). And then the American sports, the one thing that sports in America have spot in broadcasting.

    Why doesn’t football use technology? I struggle to think of a sport that doesn’t these days and those matches are better for it, do you know what rugby does when replays are inconclusive? Give it back to the referee to make a human decision. It can be timely but it is right (and mainly used for try’s rather than every decision in the game), football’s fear of modern technology is a sham(e), and it is bringing the game into disrepute.

  13. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Nacho nacho man

    Great post.
    Totally agree with the need to embrace technology and other changes specifically designed to minimize the scope for human error. Blatter/Fifa’s past objections on the basis of preserving the ‘human element’ and the referee’s authority are ridiculous and only understandable in terms of their own opaque governance.
    I’d advocate one further change: ban betting firms from advertising around live broadcasts, sponsoring teams, and the clubs’ own promotion of betting firms on their websites and at their grounds. By allowing all these at the moment, it seems that the professional game is endorsing the industry and implying an umbilical link to the game.
    Prohibition-esque I know, but I think the game needs a zero tolerance response.

  14. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Jon

    at what point does Blatter’s insistence on the ‘human element’ look like code for ‘we need bribable referees’ … oh, that’d be now then.

  15. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1craig

    Well, this is true: Dean’s record versus Arsenal (and it is very clearly versus) is no coincidence. It’s just not possible. Corruption, bias, I don’t claim to know… but it is not the result of an unending string of well meant mistakes. The record is too long, too well documented, say what it is: he intentionally refs against Arsenal. You can’t look at 1800+ minutes and say this is chance. And the FA has seen it, knows it, and continues to give him Arsenal matches… which shows that they are ok with it. After 5 matches, you can say it’s probably chance. After 10 matches, its unlikely. After 20, there just isn’t a question anymore. And he continues to get put on the Arsenal matches.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Zeddington

      I do disagree, and think we all need to be very careful about this. I do think it’s an incredible record, but we need to look at the matches he referees for Arsenal. I’d guess they are generally the bigger teams? Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool? If so, we need to look at over how long a period these last 20 matches were played – were they during the last few years where we’ve been weaker, or does it stretch back a few years, when we were stronger and had a better record against the top teams? Were they home or away (on the assumption that teams tend to win more at home)? What does our record look like against the same teams with different referees? Finally, if after all that, it still looks shady, we’d need to watch the individual games and look for individual instances of potential bias.

      I do agree that the stats are quite remarkable, and on a personal level I think Dean is a twat who hates Arsenal. But if we were to be serious about it, we’d need to do some deeper analysis before we can be certain.

      1. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1craig

        We’re all in luck. Untold Arsenal just broke down Dean in depth today. Please. Read it and make up your own mind. I’ve watched every single game he’s reffed against Arsenal since 2009. I’ve seen the numbers posted online. Everyone is free to make up their own mind.

      2. Vote -1 Vote +1craig

        And yes, I love replying to myself, but for the record, I’m not saying I’m sure about why, Untold has there theory, and it’s possibly true… but so are plenty of other things. What I am sure about is Dean refs against Arsenal. I’ve seen the matches, I’ve seen the data, and in my opinion, it is beyond a reasonable doubt.

  16. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1feygooner

    Hi Tim,

    Great post. It amazes me that so many bloggers don’t even think that things like these are mentioning.

    However, I do think that you don’t have the complete picture on Conte. From numerous articles and comments on the Guardian website, it seems that Conte was accused by a match fixer/better (forgot what the guy actually did) about failing to report a match fixing attempt. This was denied by all other members of the squad and everyone else involved. There was no other evidence. Conte was essentially banned for what a proven liar said about him in contradiction to 24 honest people.

    I don’t follow Serie A and I may be wrong about a few of the details, so you should talk to someone who actually followed the case, but it really does seem to me that Conte’s punishment was a sham.

  17. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Gooneryank

    Great stuff as usual, Tim but I have to disagree about the advantage rule. Awarding a free kick for every foul would slow down play enough to make it resemble American throw ball and give teams that employ a tactic of rotationally fouling an advantage. The majority of free kicks, even in the opponents half, are not played in an attacking nature (which befuddles me) but rather laterally or backwards simply to restart play. Why not give the team that has been fouled the option to play advantage or take the free kick? A simple signal from the player fouled or the captain would suffice. Throwing your arm up obviously could not be used as this is already used for a plethora of alleged offenses, claiming dead balls and signaling that my DB9 needs to be washed. How about the funky chicken dance or the Macarena? Just close your eyes and imagine Peter Crouch flapping his arms about…worth the price of admission if you ask me.

  18. Vote -1 Vote +1Paul-N

    Zeddington, you have to look at how he officiates the matches, not just about who won or lost. The stats bear out that he gives Arsenal the crap end of the stick almost all the time.

    There is no need for Mike Dean to offciate so many Arsenal matches against United and the likes.

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