"Working Something Out" in the World Cup

After the US Men's National Soccer Team ended its gut-wrenching bout with Portugal in a tie, the jokes began to swirl in the Twitterverse about "working something out" with Germany - the next opponent the US will face in this year's World Cup. If that game ends in a draw, both the US and Germany will escape the much feared "Group of Death." Considering a German coach and several German-American players lead this US team, perhaps "working something out" between the US and Germany is a particularly humorous scenario, but it is far from unheard of in FIFA's international game. If the US and Germany collude to do nothing more than stare at the ball for ninety-minutes on Thursday, both teams will join an unfortunate and long-standing history of match fixing in the world's most popular sport.

FIFA's President, Joseph S. Blatter, has said FIFA employs a "zero tolerance policy" towards match fixing. Despite FIFA's seemingly tough stance, match fixing has been a very real problem for soccer, even at the upper reaches of the global game. Most recently, FIFA uncovered at least five matches in South Africa ahead of the last World Cup where fixers manipulated the game. These problems were not isolated to teams from countries ripe with corruption. According to FIFA's report regarding the scandal, as many as fifteen matches were targeted in 2010, including one between the US and Australia where fixers attempted to get their referee to handle the match before being blocked by the appointment of a South African official. Europol, the European Union's police intelligence agency, has said there were as many as 680 suspicious matches played globally between 2008 and 2011, including games in some of Europe's most prestigious leagues.

Fixers are attracted to the sport because of the action it generates on the largely unregulated Asian betting markets. The impressive breadth of those markets, which may account for hundreds of billions of dollars annually, means big money for fixers responsible for missed shots, awarded penalty kicks, and thrown matches. Many question FIFA's ability to regulate this problem, even on the world's largest stage.

FIFA has issued assurances that every precaution has been taken to prevent match fixing in Brazil. Reportedly, FIFA instituted a hotline for players and coaches to anonymously report suspicious activity, in addition to FIFA's "Early Warning System" (EWS), which has been monitoring betting on FIFA matches since 2007. Even so, there is a long and disturbing history of suspicious activity in the World Cup. In 2006, for example, France reportedly paid Brazil twenty-five million dollars to throw a quarterfinal match. Undoubtedly, FIFA will be watching this US-Germany match closely on Thursday to ensure that the fix is not in, but one thing seems clear - "working something out" is far from mere musings of the Twitterverse in the world of soccer.