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This article was published 18/5/2010 (3532 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Can of worms: a source of startling and disturbing predicaments. One who opens a can of worms less than a month before the World Cup: a killjoy.
Lord Triesman fits the description nicely. In comments revealed to the Mail on Sunday, the former chairman of the Football Association and head of England's 2018 World Cup bid suggested Spain — with help from Russia — would be attempting to bribe referees in South Africa.
Talk about a spoilsport. With just weeks to go before kickoff of the world's biggest cultural gathering, there was Triesman — a life peer of the British House of Lords — alleging corruption at the highest level of the sport. Nobody wanted to hear about that. Especially FIFA.
Soccer's governing body has never been keen to address concerns about match-fixing, and their inaction irks a lot of people, not the least of who is Declan Hill. An investigative journalist and Oxford scholar, Hill has become a leading resource on corruption in sport since the 2008 publication of his book, The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime.
In an interview with the Free Press shortly after Triesman's comments became public, Hill was as pointed as ever in his criticism of FIFA, and warned that fixers would be approaching players, referees and team officials during the World Cup. And while Triesman may have provided a timely opportunity to probe allegations of corruption, Hill says FIFA has no such organization capable of carrying out the investigation.
"Nothing at FIFA has been effective in stopping this kind of stuff," he says. "There's no effective organization to look into this."
If Triesman's remarks can be taken at face value, Hill says soccer fans have a right to be worried.
"His allegations sound, coincidentally, very close to the path of international corruption that we've seen in figure skating," he says, recalling the case of a French judge who accepted a bribe from Russian fixers in the pairs competition. "Either he's (learned of the alleged corruption) from there, or there's a pattern where you have these associations going to the Russians to arrange their fixing. That's a really worrying thing and it should be investigated."
On Monday FIFA announced it would look into the allegations. But while Hill is wary of FIFA's ability to police corruption, he would just as soon see match-fixing stamped out at the root. All it would take, he says, is proper, timely payments to World Cup players and officials.
"It's outrageous that there are athletes participating in the world's biggest sporting tournament — bigger than the Olympics by far, and sponsored to the tune of billions of dollars — playing in front of full stadiums and running onto the pitches uncertain of how much they'll get paid, and if they'll get paid at all," says Hill. "That is the dynamic that drives corruption."
The dynamic is functional, he says, because fixers have often shown themselves to be more trustworthy than some football association presidents. They can guarantee a payday, whereas the association may distribute little or none of the money to its players. Such a scenario played out at the 2006 World Cup, where the Togolese players threatened to quit the tournament due to withheld payments.
An easy way around this, says Hill, would be for FIFA to pay players and officials directly. He says the moment a player or referee steps onto the grass at a World Cup, payment from FIFA should be deposited into their bank account.
It sounds so simple. And even with three weeks remaining before the 2010 World Cup begins, Hill says there's still time to create a centralized payment scheme for players.
"Not even now is it too late," he says. "We're not talking about ticket sales or Thierry Henry's handball. We're talking about the essential credibility of the game."
Those who leave the can of worms on the floor: oblivious, or merely lazy.
Switzerland's Christoph Spycher (knee) has retired from international soccer. The 32-year-old left-back made 47 appearances for his country.
Juventus duo Fabio Grosso and Antonio Candreva have been cut from the Italy squad. Grosso scored the World Cup-winning penalty in 2006.