The recent revelations surrounding a massive campaign of match fixing involving more than 400 players, match officials and senior club staff should come as no surprise. This scandal is the latest dreadful example of how corruption and greed is destroying the beautiful game for millions of loyal fans. In total, 680 matches in 30 countries were identified by Europol as potentially suspicious, including games in the Champions League and international tournaments, with bribes of up to $135,000 paid to players and officials. That these figures can be paid out for fixing a single game is understandable given an estimated $2 billion a week is gambled on football in Asia alone.
FIFA, football’s world governing body, has attempted to downplay this plague, stating only a “small percentage” of matches are affected. This reflects a general unwillingness to seriously tackle the issue at the upper echelons of the game. In the 2011 match-fixing scandal in Italy, for example, the clubs charged faced only minimal point deductions and insignificant fines. While FIFA likes to portray itself as an internationalist organisation developing fair play, every football fan knows the organisation is itself deeply corrupt. Last year a BBC Panorama documentary exposed how ISL, the world’s largest marketing company, paid $10 million worth of bribes to FIFA officials over a period of a decade. This is only the tip of the iceberg.
Corruption is endemic to capitalism and the current situation in football reflects the rotten corrupt system we live under. The cash that flooded into the game in the 1990’s following the rise of satellite television and the flotation of Europe’s biggest clubs on the stock market transformed football into a billionaire’s playground. Since then scores of top clubs across Europe have been bought up by individuals who gained their wealth in highly suspect circumstances. Reckless financial mismanagement has seen the rapid decline of title-contending clubs such as Glasgow Rangers and Leeds, while Manchester United, Liverpool and others have been burdened with massive long-term debts as a result of speculative takeovers.
Football has increasingly become a means of making vast profits rather than a sport. Clubs occupy a special place in the hearts of many millions worldwide and fans should not put up with this situation.
Ultimately the only way to transform this situation is to fight for clubs to be taken out of the control of big business. Clubs should be owned, controlled and democratically run by supporters as non-profit making institutions. Fans should not simply watch and comment from the sidelines. They should have a real voice in the day-to-day running of their clubs, including the election of the club’s board. Likewise, at football’s summit FIFA needs to be replaced with a democratic organisation controlled and run in the interests of supporters, not big business. The enormous amount of money in football should be used for the benefit of everyone who plays and enjoys watching the sport, including providing affordable ticket prices and television coverage, and money to improve the quality of facilities at every level.