Corruption Allegations Surface Before World Cup Opens

The organization governing world soccer apparently has proof that an Asian gambling syndicate fixed World Cup matches in 2010. Steve Inskeep talks to Jere Longman of The New York Times.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Days before soccer's World Cup, we are learning of alleged match fixing in the run-up to the last World Cup. The sports governing association is called FIFA, and The New York Times has obtained a copy of an unpublished FIFA report on the alleged corruption back in 2010. Jere Longman is one of the Times reporters who revealed this. He begins his reporting with the story of a referee who went to work in South Africa and somehow came into possession of $100,000 in $100 bills.

JERE LONGMAN: The allegation is that he agreed to manipulate the match - to fix it, to rig it - by awarding, you know, penalty kicks that are - you know, it's a subjective call - but awarding penalty kicks for phantom calls or phantom fouls.

INSKEEP: You mentioned something called hand-ball calls, alleging that the player touched the ball with his hands, when the videotape doesn't actually show that.

LONGMAN: Right. So the players were stopping shots with their chest, or they were outside the so-called penalty area when they - when the ball touched the player's hand, which you're not supposed to award a penalty kick for. But it was clear, even at the time - I mean, it was so obvious that even the news reports of the match were saying - you know, calling the calls terrible and dubious and things like that.

INSKEEP: Were there a lot of games affected this way in the run-up to the World Cup in 2010?

LONGMAN: So the fixer, this match syndicate out of Singapore, is alleged in the report to have fixed as many as five, and maybe more, matches. They targeted 15 matches, including an exhibition between the United States and Australia that apparently was not fixed.

INSKEEP: OK, you said five matches may have been affected. They tried to affect as many as 15. And you mentioned a match-fixing syndicate - these are gamblers - out of Singapore. Did they reach out to players as well as refs?

LONGMAN: In this instance, there were no players mentioned in the report. So in this instance, what they did was, cleverly - they're accused of infiltrating the South African Soccer Federation, which was short of money, in political disarray, administrative disarray. And so the syndicate came in, offered to provide referees for these exhibition matches leading up to the 2010 World Cup and to provide, you know, the referees lodging and travel which would take the financial burden off...

INSKEEP: We'll save you some money here. OK, sure, sure.

LONGMAN: Yeah, yeah. And that's against the rules. But, you know, the South Africans agreed to this. And so what that did was to give the gambling syndicate legitimate cover to provide their own referees. And then they could switch referees at the last minute if they needed to. They could get access to the referee's dressing area, to the sidelines. And they raised no red flags at the time when this happened.

INSKEEP: Is there any indication that this year's world World Cup is going to be any different?

LONGMAN: Well, FIFA, soccer's world governing body, contends that it beefed up its security, that would be - it would be much more difficult to try to do something like this now. So, you know, you can only hope that they're accurate.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll see what happens. Jere Longman of The New York Times, thanks very much.

LONGMAN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's one of the reporters who revealed a FIFA report on alleged gambling corruption, match fixing, back in 2010 in the run-up to that year's World Cup. This is NPR News.

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