When Canada played a fixed match
There have been recriminations lately surrounding the match-fixing scandal engulfing the CSL, with critics pointing to the league and the CSA’s inaction on a story that first emerged last year. It’s easy to forget that Canada’s men’s national team has been involved in match-fixing scandals of it’s own — both willing and unwilling.
Most recently, eyebrows were raised when Macedonia beat Canada 3-0 on November 14, 2009. Less so at the scoreline (after all, Macedonia are a good side) than the fact that Bulgarian referee Anton Genov awarded four penalties in the second half of the match. UEFA raised red flags after noticing irregular betting patterns leading up to the match, with unusually large amounts of money being staked on more than 2.5 goals being scored. Genov was, of course, in on this “over/under” bet and kept whistling for penalties in an effort to rack up the scoreline. Hilariously, Canada missed both of their kicks to throw a wrench in the scheme. Genov must have been sweating with the score still at 2-0 in stoppage time, finally awarding Macedonia their second penalty at the slightest hint of a foul.
This story came to light in January of last year from an unlikely source, the mass of Wikileaks cables released by Julian Assange’s organization. Apparently, the American embassy in Sofia was concerned with corruption at all levels of Bulgarian football, with Genov’s performance symptomatic of the problem. Note that Bulgaria is just a couple of former Yugoslav republics away from Croatia, the native country of the fixers behind the CSL match fixing scandal involving Toronto Croatia players. Many of these investigations into corruption in football end up pointing to gangs from Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia — and that’s where our next story comes from.
In 1986, fresh off their only World Cup appearance to date, Canada played in the Merlion Cup in Singapore. Four Canadian players were approached to throw the game for $100,000. They eventually recruiting a fifth. Canada lost 2-0, and at least one person in Southeast Asia made a lot of money from the scam. Paul James, that fifth player, backed out after the match and confided in another teammate, who eventually blew the story wide open. The other players were tainted by the scandal and had their careers ruined, including Canada’s sixth-all-time leading goalscorer Igor Vrablic.
In 1973, Canadian linesman James Higuet raised his flag to rule out a number of Trinidad and Tobago “goals” in a 2-1 World Cup qualifying loss to Haiti, sending the home side to the World Cup in West Germany the following year. Haitian dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier had taken an interest in his national side and likely exerted some kind of influence over Higuet, and possibly Salvadoran referee José Roberto Henríquez — both officials were subsequently banned for life by FIFA. This was scant consolation for Trinidad and Tobago, who had to wait until 2006 for their first World Cup appearance.
The latter two stories came to light as the result of a whistleblower. If this is what’s reported, who knows what else has gone on involving our men’s national team? We know that match fixing is a problem at the highest levels of football. Italian soccer fans will, of course, point to their famous loss to the Republic of Korea in the 2002 World Cup. The Koreans certainly rode their luck against both Italy and Spain in the knockout stages, and while I was usually the first to dismiss claims of bias as sour grapes, referee Byron Moreno is currently serving a jail term for smuggling heroin into the United States. This does raise questions of Moreno’s character — is he the kind of person that can be influenced by (potentially East Asian) betting syndicates?
The latter example is mere speculation and just one of many possible examples, but all of these developments show that the reaches of organized crime penetrate the game at every level, even those that seem mundane and less glamorous. Renewed vigilance and ongoing accountability at the highest levels of Canadian and world football is ultimately what’s necessary to help remove the scourge of match fixing from the beautiful game.
Do you have any comments on the problem of match fixing in Canadian soccer? Are you adamant that you’ve witnessed a fixed game? Please post your story in the comment form below.