“Certainly there is evidence of matchfixing at some recent world cups.”

Interview with Simon Kuper

Every four years all eyes in Europe are on one big event – the European Football Championships (Euro). The past weeks it seemed that everyone in Europe seemed to talk about the matches, its players, but as well about what it means for the two host countries Poland and Ukraine to host such a majour invent. One big question that was raised again and again was whether UEFA’s decision giving the host for the Euro 2012 to the two countries was the right one, looking at their political and economic situations. Simon Kuper, journalist and book author, found the time to answer our questions whilest reporting on the Euro 2012 from Ukraine.

1. What do you see as the greatest challenges for countries like Poland and Ukraine to put on a big tournament like Euro 2012?

I think by now countries know how to host these events. You just spend billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on stadiums, airports, hotels, roads to the stadiums etc. You mostly get in international companies who know how to build the stuff. In the end it always gets done, and whether the stadiums are in South Africa or Ukraine, they end up looking much the same.

I’m in Ukraine now, and when you are in one of the new airports or stadiums you wouldn’t know that this is a second-world country. But of course in a few days the tournament will be over, and then all this new infrastructure will be of only limited use to people here, many of whom have to live on a couple of hundred euros a month. So the question isn’t the difficulty of organizing the tournament. The question is whether these countries should want to organize it.

2. Do you think there will be any problem with match fixing at such a high profile event? If so, what could be done to stop it?

Certainly there is evidence of matchfixing at some recent world cups. For instance, the referee who made very controversial decisions favouring South Korea in the Korea-Italy quarterfinal of 2002, the Ecuadorean Byron Moreno, is now in a US jail for heroin smuggling. So he’s a crook. And the Canadian journalist Declan Hill has produced serious evidence in his book The Fix to make the case that Ghana arranged to lose to Brazil in 2006 by at least two goals. Of course Fifa hasn’t investigated.

If it happens in world cups, it could potentially happen in Euros too – though I think Euros are less vulnerable as on average players here are better paid at their clubs, and European referees also tend to be better off than some non-Europeans. And in Europe the rules and systems against corruption tend to be relatively strong.

How to stop matchfixing? It’s very hard. Very rarely does any “victim” go to the police to report matchfixing. Football is a closed world, where everyone knows everyone, and people inside are reluctant to tell tales. Perhaps the best way would be to educate people at the top of the industry, club directors etc., that the one thing that might destroy football is matchfixing – because if fans believe the game is fixed, they will stop watching. But the very light punishments handed out by Italy’s FA to Italian clubs involved in the matchfixing scandals, and the Turkish FA’s hasty acquittal of all accused Turkish clubs, tells me that people in football aren’t taking this seriously yet.

3. Was it a good decision for Uefa to award the tournament to countries like Poland and Ukraine?

I’m not sure. As I say, these are not rich countries and they have spent lots of government money on things that won’t have much use once the circus leaves town on July 2. I’m sure many Poles and Ukrainians wish the money had been spent on schools and hospitals instead.

Then there is the question of Ukraine’s bandit government. I sympathise with UEFA, because when they gave Ukraine the tournament a few years ago, politics here looked more hopeful. Now it looks pretty bleak, I’m afraid.