Match-fixing in soccer must be addressed

GARETH WHEELER

, Last Updated: 4:05 AM ET

"I really believe that this is the main scourge we are facing this decade." -- UEFA president, Michel Platini

When Platini said the above, he wasn't talking about club debt or competitive balance in soccer. He was talking about match-fixing, which once again reared its ugly head last month, throwing the integrity of multiple UEFA nations into disrepute after a widespread scandal was uncovered.

As soccer's governing bodies delve further into betting irregularities and possible corruption, Canada's Nov. 14th friendly against Macedonia has been called into question.

To boil it down, a number of sketchy calls in a stadium in the middle of nowhere between two nations that are relative minnows became a popular game to bet on -- particularly the over/under for goals, which was set at 2.5. During the game, Bulgarian referee Anton Genov awarded four penalty kicks, which is a rate virtually unheard of.

Canada lost 3-0 when the over was covered on a converted 91st-minute penalty kick. Genov has since been suspended by UEFA.

This is how match-fixing works: It's not the players who are corrupt, it's the referees. It's next to impossible for one player to affect the outcome of a game, but the job of a referee is inherently imperfect and subjective, making them easy targets for those wishing to influence outcomes.

Such an incident hits home and brings to light that corruption can happen to any team at any time. And Canada has had its fair share of refereeing controversies over the past decade.

Let's be straight up: Canada has been screwed over by referees. The nation's 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign was a disgrace because of questionable calls. And more recently, Canada was jobbed in its previous two Gold Cup appearances because of bad decisions against them.

The Canadian soccer community has chalked up such losses to poor CONCACAF officiating. But who is to say the results aren't being corrupted? This isn't to say the matches were fixed, but the shadow of doubt is there, which is just as detrimental to soccer. Fans have to believe results are legit and games are on the up and up.

A month after Thierry Henry's "Hand of God" moment, fans are still saying the game was fixed. That's not fair to France, Ireland, the referee or anyone involved. A bad call or a missed called is, and should be, just that. But a legacy of corruption in soccer makes onlookers believe otherwise.

The lack of public confidence in FIFA's ability to keep the game clean has to change.

In the name of getting it right, soccer should add a second referee. That way, referees will always have a clear vantage point, maintaining proper angles to get calls right. And, at the same time, it's less likely two officials could be corrupted.

For more on match-fixing, tune into The Casino Rama Grill Room on Tuesday (6:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.), as investigative author Declan Hill (The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime) joins the show.

Nothing blue about Teal

Teal Bunbury, the son of Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame striker Alex Bunbury, and his Akron Zips fell short yesterday in their pursuit of an NCAA soccer championship.

After a scoreless regulation and overtime, the previously top-ranked Zips fell 3-2 in penalty kicks to the second-ranked Virginia Cavaliers.

Despite the loss, the season was an overwhelming success for the Hamilton-born sophomore, who led the NCAA in goals with 17 and is a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy as the association's top player.

Bunbury, who has competed for Canada at the U-20 level, is expected to forego his final years of college to enter this year's MLS SuperDraft.

If he declares his intent to forego this final college years, Bunbury would be a sure-fire first-round pick.

Toronto FC doesn't own a first-round pick this year, but Bunbury is the kind of Canadian talent director of soccer Mo Johnston would try to make a move to acquire.

GARETH.WHEELER@SUNTV.CANOE.CA


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