By Julian Bennetts
Forget the issues around Qatar, Fifa or Financial Fair Play – according to those in power at the top of world football, match fixing is the biggest threat to the sport today.
But it won't be Sepp Blatter or Michel Platini who take the lead on match fixing. Instead Chris Eaton, a former policeman in Victoria, Australia, is the man the criminals and the fixers have to fear.
Indeed, Eaton looks as if he has stepped straight off the set of LA Confidential, and his approach to crime-fighting is unapologetically old-school.
"Criminality is pretty much amateurish in every sense," bristles the 61-year-old.
"But we have to face up to the reality that the infiltration of criminality into football for the purpose of match fixing - primarily for the purpose of betting fraud - has reached endemic proportions."
Eaton's message is clear; match fixing is not something that will become a scourge on our game – it already is.
After more 10 years at Interpol, which in turn followed 30 years' experience of federal policing in Australia, Eaton became Fifa's security advisor for the 2010 World Cup, working closely with South African police to
monitor and eradicate criminal activity.
He then became full-time head of security with Fifa, helping to set up the federation's anti-match fixing and criminal behaviour programme.
He is now sports integrity director at the International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS), a Doha-based not-for-profit organisation set up in 2010 to "work with all those responsible for sport security, safety and integrity", which counts governments and sport associations among its clients.
Eaton's role is to investigate fraud and travel the world bringing down criminal organisations and warning those illustrious clients of measures they can take to prevent match fixing from happening on their patch.
Yet you learn more about match fixing from the personal details, the individual stories that bring home quite how easy it can be to defraud supporters at every stage, than the bigger picture.
They also show how fixing has evolved from somewhat crude, small-scale involvement to potentially dangerous criminal activity.
Two Malaysians, a Chinese man and Charlton's security advisor were jailed in 1997 after a bribed security guard blew the whistle on a ploy to turn off the floodlights during a match against Liverpool at the Valley. The plan, which had succeeded on two previous occasions - at West Ham's Upton Park and Wimbledon's Selhurst Park - secured big-money payouts for Asian betting syndicates who profited from the games being brought to a premature halt.
In 2010 a Cremonese player crashed his car after a match against Paganese. It transpired he and his team-mates had allegedly been doped by goalkeeper Marco Paolini, who had attempted to rig the match to clear his gambling debts. Paolini has since been banned from football for five years.
Also in 2010 there was the astonishing tale of a fake Togolese team playing Bahrain and losing 3-0 – a ruse that made headlines around the world.
The following year 11 players in Finland were convicted alongside a Singaporean match fixer.
Interpol's match fixing investigation
|€16.6m||Amount wagered by criminals on fixed matches|
|€8.4m||Profit made from betting on said matches|
|€2m||Amount paid to officials and players involved in the scheme|
|€146k||Biggest figure paid to an individual|
|425||People suspected of involvement in an organised crime syndicate based in Asia|
|380||Matches earmarked as suspicious|
|2||Champions League matches involved in the investigation|
In September, four Englishmen were among 10 charged with match fixing while playing for Melbourne's Southern Stars. They had previously played for Hornchurch and Eastbourne Borough.
Days after those events in Australia, Singaporean police arrested Tan Seet Eng – otherwise known as Dan Tan – a man alleged to be a fixer, or even 'the glue between the match fixing operation and the betting operation'.
The arrest of the infamous Tan was thought to be a significant breakthrough but Eaton downplays his role, indicating he is simply a cog in a large and well-oiled machine.
The figures are striking. Eaton estimates between £1 billion and £2b is wagered on sport – 70-80 per cent of that on football – by just three Asian betting syndicates. He also claims that criminal gangs are veering away from drug trafficking to match fixing because it 'is easier – less risk and higher reward'.
According to Eaton, betting syndicates working primarily out of Asia and Eastern Europe prey on the weak – clubs and players that are in need of money, hence why the fixes so far uncovered are not among football's elite.
It is possible that events in Spain could disprove that.
"Eight or nine games in the top two divisions will be fixed (every season)," the president of the Spanish footballers' association (LFP), Javier Tebas told a Leaders in Football conference earlier this year.
"It is not just a problem with the Spanish Leagues, it's a problem for other leagues and other sports, but it needs to be addressed and we need to find solutions.
|"Eight or nine games in the top two divisions will be fixed every season"
- Javier Tebas, LFP president
"We are completely aware of this corruption issue. It's a financial question – it's about pricing and what you can earn from the situation."
One game in particular stands out; Deportivo La Coruna's 4-0 win at Levante in April. Levante were destined for a mid-table finish and Deportivo in a desperate, and ultimately unsuccessful, fight against relegation.
As such the result raised eyebrows – particularly when Levante midfielder Javier Barkero questioned the commitment and effort of some of his team-mates at half-time. Tebas confirmed an investigation, which is ongoing.
Listening to Eaton's views on match fixing is sobering in the extreme: "In the last 10 years we have seen a huge increase in sport gambling and betting, where it now reaches billions of dollars spent on sport and even single matches."
"Criminals looking for an easy buck are finding ways to simply manipulate some of these results to make a lot of money. It is a wide-ranging, global problem.
"How it happens today still surprises and astounds me, that football and other sports don't realise that (preying on clubs and players in financial difficulty) is a natural tactic.
"There is no such thing as a free lunch. When someone comes in with a solution to your money problems you must check out that person and that deal.
"Sporting bodies are not doing that well. Sport has to operate with far more international business principles. They have to realise they are big businesses and will be targeted. As they are targeted they need to put defensive mechanisms in place."
What those mechanisms should be is far from clear. Eaton has consistently stuck to his view that it should be a joint effort between sporting and legislative bodies, although even that can only go so far.
Sporting bodies can educate players on the dangers of gambling and accepting assistance from outside parties, while governments and police can crack down on both gambling and criminal gangs, but it is fair to say the authorities are already fighting with one hand tied behind their back.
"Sport regulation and legislation cannot keep up with the innovation of criminals," says Eaton.
"The innovation of criminals happens on a daily basis and they roam the world freely. Police don't have such freedom or financial liquidity to their hands.
"Everyone needs to realise these guys have all the advantages. We need to catch up with their advantages – the legislation and the platform that is globally necessary needs to be highly flexible, it needs to match the mobility of criminality, and it has to match the access and innovation of criminality. We will beat this if governments actually take it seriously.
"So long as there is fraud and money in gambling because gambling is not properly regulated or managed, and because sport manipulation is not properly supervised by sport or police, this will continue."
Eaton makes it clear that football is at a tipping point. Cricket has taken steps to clean up its reputation following the spot fixing row and football needs to do the same. To Eaton that means new legislation and a concerted effort by the football authorities.
But is it a fight we can win?
"Absolutely," says Eaton. "We hear about the use by criminals of sophisticated mathematicians, algorithms and well trained people in world finance but they are all working for a dollar.
"We have to remember the people behind them are pretty unsophisticated people."
And maybe football's chief policeman can get the better of them.
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