The recent headlines about corruption in FIFA were so large that I wanted to find out more. This book was perhaps the start of the avalanche. Notes and index take up 100 pgs, so about 300 to read it. Large leading make it a quick read. I have read better exposes and this one is not terribly good. If you like the sport, however, you may want to read it any way.
There is a great line from a young Charles Bronson in a Tracy/Hepburn movie. In it, he is accused of trying to fix a game. He explains "No. We don't care who wins the game. We just want to know the outcome in advance!"
I did not like the book for a few reasons. Not a lot of meat; a travel log style of writing ("I went here, they went there, we met at a bar"… etc); and a deliberate dramatic style of writing (e.g.: a chapter might end with an enigmatic "But things did not turn out that way.") to keep you interested.
The short story is that soccer is easy to rig and is a world-wide sport. It is an easy target. The internet has made it easy for people to bet on anything anywhere. The moment real money became associated with sport, players and teams have been taking dives for organized crime. The list of ways to influence games and people are the grist of every cop show and who-dun-it novel. Hookers and "coffee money" get them hooked. Arguments like "You will lose anyway, so why not lose the way we say and make a buck or two." work very well. Owners trade off favors (I will gladly lose on Tuesday for a win today.) Owners can make more money by far by betting than by winning, if they know the outcome first. It is extremely prevalent in south east Asia. One third of the book focuses on that area.
The next third talks about rigging European games. It happens a lot. If you can place a bet that X will beat Y by 8 goals, you can expect 10,000 to 1 odds. And it has happened. While game fixing in Europe is common, officials seem willfully blind to it, in part because the love the sport and the idea of it being corrupted is repugnant to them. This is still the case, so far as I can tell.
The last third looks more closely at the links between Europe and Asia. FIFA is discussed, of course. Ironically, Sepp Blatter was brought in to clean up the game. This very day, Sepp was suspended and is under criminal investigation.
When FIFA was confronted in 2007 with its appalling record, it denied any wrong doing and invoked the Money Python defense that it is society's fault.
If you are not a Python fanatic, here is the relevant excerpt:
A bad guy is literally fingered for a crime by god who says "The one in the braces. He done it!" . The police arrest him and the baddy says "It’s a fair cop, but society it to blame." The copper replies "Yes sir. We'll be charging them next week."
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.