When Canadian soccer results are too good to be true
When I first saw CSL fixtures available for betting online, I was a little surprised. It all seemed too real. No longer were the available bets restricted to top-level European football half a world away, but I could put large amounts of money on matches happening just a short drive away at places like Centennial Park and Lamport Stadium in Toronto.
Bwin, one of the online bookmakers that supports Canadian customers, offers wagers for all kinds of sports and events — even the Oscars.
Anytime a semi-professional league is up for this kind of wagering, concerns are raised. Most of these players are part-timers working jobs in construction or going to school in between driving across the province for away games. As investigative journalist Declan Hill makes clear in his eye-opening book The Fix, it’s not that as difficult as you might think to fix a soccer game — often, you just need the goalkeeper on board, maybe a couple of defenders, and you’re set.
I wrote this article partly in response to an exposé on CBC’s The National earlier tonight covering the issue. Canadian journalist Ben Rycroft has done sterling work in covering the problem, and before the recent awareness of it in the local soccer community, there were murmurs of foul play from observers and those inside the league. I recall speaking to a former Toronto Croatia player in 2007 who was convinced that he had taken the field with players who were playing for more than just pride and league points.
The Canadian Soccer League’s organization (or lack thereof) has led more than one team to drop out in recent years and seek to form their own competing structure. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the administrators, who do a fine job with limited resources, but it’s not difficult to imagine the ease with which a betting syndicate could infiltrate the division.
The league’s chairman, Vince Ursini, told CBC cameras he wasn’t aware that German court documents had fingered a 2009 game between Trois-Rivières Attak (then the reserve side of Montréal Impact, now a Major League Soccer team) and Toronto Croatia as fixed in the home side’s favour. The Croatian Sapina brothers, well known to German investigators, were among those behind the fix.
Germany has taken steps to curb the reach of Croatian mobsters and their ability to influence games, but the limited oversight in Canada makes it worthwhile for organized criminals to affect results in the CSL. The small chunk of the massive profits that they set aside for players as willing participants no doubt seems like a small fortune to these part-time athletes.
It would take a certain degree of naiveté to be surprised that match-fixing is present in Canada; in fact, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that matches at the highest levels of football, including the World Cup, are subject to fixers’ meddling hands. What is particularly troubling is the CSL’s complete lack of awareness of and preparation regarding the subject. With interest in the game steadily growing and representing an all-time high in this country, the league that has been marketed as “Canada’s only professional division” needs to professionalize quickly — before it loses any more credibility.