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A Decade Of Football Business

Thu 16th Jan 2014 | Football Governance

This is the tenth year for the ‘business magazine for the football industry’ and many things have moved on in that time. Throughout 2014, we will be asking some of our regular writers to reflect on the then and particularly the now of the business of the beautiful game…Andrew Warshaw reflects.

In the space of just a decade since fcbusiness started publishing, English football – and football in general – has changed beyond belief. Whether it has changed for the better is open to question.

Take the modern scourge of match-fixing, for example. Until the last few years, most fans viewed what FIFA and UEFA now describe as the greatest danger to the game rather like a contagious virus. In other words, something to stay clear of but potentially seriously damaging if and when it strikes in your own backyard.

The recent cases in English football, until now regarded as the bastion of fair play, have brought home to the paying public just how far this cancer has managed to spread its tentacles.

Racism in football is abhorrent in all its forms and corruption at the highest level of the game needs to continue to be weeded out. But neither of them in the past decade have become as extensive as match manipulation. If and when we get to the stage that we no longer know if the match we are watching is clean, we may as well all pack up and go home.

This is a fact not lost on Chris Eaton, former Head of Security at FIFA who some unfairly accuse of being a publicity seeker but who is a leading authority on match fixing trends and will continue to speak out until national governments catch on to the crisis.

Eaton, sports security director at the International Centre for Sports Security based in Qatar, believes governments must stop shirking their responsibilities and police football properly. Only if there is an effective crackdown on the criminal gangs involved, he says, can the cheating and manipulation cease. And to do that, you have to make match-fixing a criminal offence, something which too many governments are loathe to do.

While much laudable collaborative work has been done between the investigatory bodies worldwide, the fact remains that the fixers and riggers too often seem to be one step ahead. Only now have those who dismissed the general problem of manipulation as nothing more than an unnecessary irritant begun to wake up to reality.

Today there is no hiding place - for anyone. What we need are solutions: at all levels. How many clubs, do you think, sit new players down when they first walk through the door and warn them about the dangers of spot betting or match-fixing? They are far more likely to check for bumps and bruises and discuss personal terms and positional play than they are to discourage being sucked in by Asian gambling dens.

The clubs could do more to reduce the temptation to play dirty off the fi eld as well as on it. Last year, FIFPro, football’s international trade union, conducted a survey of 3,357 professional players in eastern Europe and found 41% had not received their salaries on time, while 12% said they had been asked to manipulate a match. No wonder those paid late or not at all licked their lips at a nice windfall, however illegally acquired.

One other possible solution is to have a safe and reliable mechanism for reporting illegal approaches without fear of retribution. Players and officials are often warned by the fixers that if they blow the whistle on agreed operations, their lives will be in mortal danger. Instead, they should be empowered to speak out.

It’s not only clubs, however, who need to take action. The huge Asian betting market, the source of most of the illicit activity, is appallingly regulated so education needs be matched by tougher legislation with sporting authorities, police, governments and bookmakers sharing suspicious information. Some do already but they need to step it up.

While match-fixing may have tarnished the game, I can think of a good number of positives that have enhanced the business of football over the past decade. FIFA has at last made significant strides to weed out corruption while goal line technology, which at one point seemed never to see the light of day because of a group of short-sighted traditionalists blocking its path, is finally making a stand. Not before time.

Then there is Financial Fair Play, a subject discussed in boardrooms across European leagues. No-one would suggest for one moment that it will be easy legally for UEFA to impose sanctions on those who break the rules but the general concept of forcing greedy, over-ambitious clubs to reduce their losses and live within their means has to be applauded, however much devil there is in the detail.

No analysis of the past decade is complete without identifying the impact of the Champions League and Premier League in transforming the authority on match-fixing trends and will continue to speak out until national governments catch on to Eaton, sports security director at the International Centre for Sports Security based in Qatar, believes governments must stop shirking their responsibilities and police football properly.

Only if there is an effective crackdown on the criminal gangs involved, he says, can the cheating and manipulation cease. And to do that, you have to make match-fixing a criminal offence, something

Television rights have skyrocketed while all-seater stadiums, in England if not elsewhere, are now de rigueur. Whether something has been lost in terms of atmosphere and romance, however, is certainly open to question. The gap between the haves and have-nots has never been greater and needs to be addressed urgently.

With so much money swirling around, the fans, without whom the clubs would not exist, have too often become short-changed by the decisions of impatient, over-expectant boardrooms searching for the Holy Grail. Where there was once a modicum of loyalty in the game, short termism is now the byword for success. A sad sign of the times...

Read the latest fcbusiness magazine HERE (registration required)

Posted by: Aaron Gourley

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