The inevitable has finally occurred with the Supreme Court clearing the way for states to legalize sports gambling. As of this writing, Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey have above the board betting with eight other states having passed bills and hoping to be up and running by this fall. The debate and pros and cons of this issue are not what I would like to talk about but rather the possibility of games being rigged or as they say in Europe, match fixing. There are many examples of soccer results being tainted, some have been proven, some have not, some remain steeped in conspiracy theory's worthy of an X-File. Paolo Rossi, the master poacher and best goal scorer in Italian history was convicted in 1980 for his role in fixing games and was suspended from soccer worldwide for three years then had it reduced to a two-year ban which allowed him to play in the 1982 World Cup where he won the championship, the Golden Ball and Golden Boot. Argentina needed four goals to advance in the 1978 World Cup against Peru and won 6-0 with the Peruvian keeper practically diving out of the way of shots on target (video below). Never proven but widely accepted as a shady outcome.
These are the two most famous incidents in soccer which come to mind, there are countless others, some known, some will remain a mystery forever. The stumbling block for would be match fixers is simply that the athletes in big American sports make too much money to risk getting caught. The average salary in the NBA is 5 million and if Steph Curry is making 33 million per season how are you going to entice him and how could you possibly lay down enough cash without raising red flags to the gaming commission? Those dedicated people are deadly serious and as sophisticated as most nations intelligence services, the gaming commission does not mess around. Major League Baseball average salary is 4.4 million, the National Football League 2.1 million with the top tier players making considerably more, indeed, my beloved Green Bay Packers will have to pay quarterback Aaron Rodgers the Gross National Product of some countries when his contract is up. The average salary for pro soccer players in America varies depending on who you talk with ( transparency is not a strong suit for MLS ) but we do know that there are only 15 players in Major League Soccer that are making over 2 million annually, do you see where I'm going with this?
That is where your incentive and window for gamblers to prey exists. Several key players on clubs are in the 100,000 to 300,000 dollar a year range that could possibly be swayed by the lure of quick payouts. How could it be done? It's too hard and expensive to get an entire team in on the act so the most obvious candidate is the goalkeeper because he can allow some soft goals and make it appear as if he just screwed up and was not committing a felonious act (it helps if you really sell it by getting furious with yourself ). With that being said, it makes things easier if the players taking the shots know of the arrangement as well so they can keep their shots on target for the goalie to do his little performance.
I say don't go to all this trouble, get the one individual who can influence a soccer game the most, the man with the whistle, the man with the red card, the man who can award penalty kicks and take away goals, the referee. There is your target. Major League Soccer officials make 800 dollars per match and if that is not enough info and incentive for you criminals out there, then I can't help you and you should go back to manipulating carnival games.
Having officiated games in a professional league myself, I can say I've never been approached to throw a match. I do confess that once in my life I cheated on the soccer field by never calling a foul on a woman player I fell in love with while watching her play during a game, but that's a whole other story. Soccer is the sport in the United States that is most vulnerable to be affected by legalized gambling and we should not be naïve enough to think that it couldn't happen. In 1996 when Major League Soccer first came into existence, lets just say that Las Vegas didn't know exactly how to accurately place the gambling line and odds on games and certain people took advantage of it. I could tell you more but I'd have to kill you.
Hopefully the beautiful game in this country will not be corrupted in this fashion by legalized gambling but I wouldn't bet against it.
Author: Kristopher Klassen