(WFI) FIFA’s head of security says world football’s governing body is fighting back against the match-fixers who are wrecking the game.

Match-fixing investigations in Asian football and in Italy and Turkey have sullied football’s reputation in the past year. Last May, FIFA signed an agreement with Interpol that provides $29 million over 10 years to fight illegal betting and match-fixing. A new FIFA anti-corruption unit was created at Interpol’s global headquarters in Singapore.

Speaking after one year in his role as FIFA’s security chief, Chris Eaton believes the partnership with Interpol is starting to pay dividends.

“We never had so many national investigations running concurrently as we have today, with hundreds of players in prison and administrators under investigation,” he said in an interview published on FIFA.com

“If that’s not the cry for us to do something, then there’ll never be one. There are up to 50 active national investigations – one quarter of FIFA’s member associations. That’s frightening. Let’s do something about it. Let’s fight back.”

He said FIFA was developing sources both in criminal organisations and football that will advise his department.

“We also need to engage associations and confederations into more of a matrix arrangement,” he said.

“For example, we have had a joint anti-match-fixing task force operating out of Kuala Lumpur since 1 December. There are two employees from the AFC and one of ours – a specialist investigator – and together they’ll be focusing on match-fixing and anti-corruption in south-east Asia.

“Another investigator is operating out of Colombia, working on the Americas and Central America. We have one Arabic-speaking investigator working out of Jordan on the Middle East and Africa, and we have a global investigations co-ordinator who operates out of the UK, monitoring Africa and Europe.”

Underlining the scale of the task FIFA faces, he added: “This is about international – transcontinental in fact – organised crime. We see the footprints of Singaporean criminals throughout Europe, Africa and Central America. Therefore it’s very difficult for national police organisations to investigate such a phenomenon.

Asked to put a figure on the scale of the match-fixing problem, he said it was only possible to measure the scale of the profit.

“The Italian regulator, for example, can see every bet laid on sport. 4.2 billion euros is gambled on sport in Italy every year, of which 92 per cent is on football,” Eaton explained.

“The Italian registered gambling institutions think they transact 30 per cent of the reality. So 70 per cent goes through unregulated and unregistered bookmakers, which therefore makes gambling on football around 12 billion a year in Italy. And that’s only one European country. We estimate that it’s between 300 and 500 billion a year gambled overall on sport across the globe, which of course includes horse racing, cricket, football and other sports.”

Since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, FIFA has developed a programme of investigation support to combat match-fixing and infiltration into FIFA and its member associations of criminals.

“Organised crime has an interest in match-fixing because football generates an enormous gambling interest. Over 90 per cent of sport-related gambling in south-east Asia is on football matches, particularly international contests,” he said.

“FIFA is not against bookmaking or gambling, but as unintended victims, we are encouraging governments collectively to make some sort of control mechanism over the unregulated gambling institutions, particularly in south-east Asia, where the amount of unregulated gambling dwarves regulated gambling.”

He added: “An Italian investigation into match-fixing in that country is now over a year old, and up to two billion euros has been identified as being the likely criminal income to two major criminal organisations, the Camorra and the Mafia.

“And remember, this is digital money. So there is no border transfer and no risk associated with importation, product problems or massive amounts of people you have to corrupt. So, up until now it has been low risk and high profits for them.”

Eaton insisted there was no need to set up a World Anti-Doping Agency-style organisation to combat match-fixing.

The International Olympic Committee is also working closely with FIFA to tackle match-fixing and illegal betting, claiming they represent the biggest threats to Olympic sports.

“I don’t believe we need a WADA. What we need is an independent investigative ability across sports. WADA is designed to deal with cheats who ‘cheat to win’. We’re talking about criminals who ‘corrupt to lose’. You certainly need a match-fixing code,” he said.

Eaton said he was confident FIFA would succeed in beating match-fixing.

“Absolutely! I’ve been involved in criminal investigations for 40 years and on an international level with Interpol for 12 years. I am yet to meet a truly smart criminal. There are many far smarter people in the administration of FIFA for instance,” he said.

“In 2012, players, officials and even administrators will have a place to go – even anonymously – to tell their story, and that’s with the commencement of the amnesty, rewards and hotline programme. There will be a website, telephone number and a dedicated email-address – in all languages. We will do everything that will suit the person who wants to say something. We’ll consider people who come to us for either a reward or amnesty.

Interpol’s education programme launches this year. It will come into play at the first international FIFA competition for 2012, the U-20 Women’s World Cup.

“They will talk to players and officials. It’s about football waking up and resisting,” Eaton said.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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