University of Canberra senior lecturer Catherine Ordway is researching the risk of match fixing at the FIFA World Cup. Photo: Melissa Adams
While billions of people around the world are tuning into the FIFA World Cup this month, Catherine Ordway has been taking a deeper look at what’s going on in Brazil.
The senior lecturer in sports management at the University of Canberra has been analysing various factors of competing countries and players to determine the risk of match fixing at the World Cup in an effort to improve education and stamp out corruption in sport.
“Football is a major sport found to have been fixed in various jurisdictions around the world and it wouldn’t be a shock and a surprise to anyone in the industry if games in the lead-up to the World Cup had been fixed along the way,” Ms Ordway said.
“So that would suggest – potentially – that some of the teams that are at the World Cup may have been involved in fixing.”
Match fixing is big business, Ms Ordway said some estimates valued the turnover of the related illegal gambling industry at $1 trillion a year.
“It’s absolutely mind-bogglingly massive, particularly in Asia, but also in Europe,” she said, noting major match-fixing rings had been broken in Russia, Croatia, Singapore and Malaysia.
“Singapore and Malaysia’s own national football leagues have collapsed under the weight of match fixing. Those national teams are not at the World Cup; but the Croatian and Russian teams are there.”
While she says that doesn’t mean those players are involved in match fixing, the risk is higher, as it also is when players are not well paid, or don’t have much at stake.
Several of the final round matches being played this week, including Australia’s, won’t change the outcome of the tournament.
“They’re the kind of matches that potentially can be played around with – that’s not to suggest that … Australia is at high risk of being involved in fixing.”
Ms Ordway says Australia is “ahead of the game” in having criminal sanctions against match fixing and a culture not prone to corruption.
“If you’ve got a corrupt country and culturally it’s acceptable to behave in corrupt ways through taking bribes and so on, then it’s a different education strategy [needed to combat match fixing].”
It’s not just the players who can be influenced by match fixers either, with referees “the next at-risk category”.
“One fun recommendation by the key author in this area, Declan Hill, is to have more female referees.”
While Ms Ordway said anecdotal evidence suggested women were less corruptible in positions of power, Mr Hill had found a key tactic match fixers employed to bribe referees was to provide prostitutes the night before the game.
While Ms Ordway is realistic about the likelihood of corruption, she says vigilance is key to upholding the value of sport.
"There is sadly a degree of skepticism about all high-level sport and sports attracting corruption, fraud – whether it’s cheating to win or cheating to lose. But I love sport and I still love to watch the spectacle and you just have to watch Timmy Cahill’s goal to spark that passion and think, you know, it’s all worth it."