Posted: Wednesday January 16, 2013 4:25 PM

FIFA warns of long fight against match-fixing

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ZURICH (AP) - The FIFA security director warns soccer has "a long way to go'' to defeat match-fixing by organized crime gangs.

FIFA was involved in 20 match-fixing investigations worldwide last year, and Ralf Mutschke said the problem could get worse because 100 national leagues are vulnerable to corruption when crime syndicates can so easily bet on matches online.

"FIFA is not going to eradicate match-fixing or corruption,'' Mutschke said Tuesday at a briefing ahead of a two-day European conference on fighting match-fixing that opens Thursday in Italy.

The German former Interpol official accepted "realistically, there is no way'' FIFA can tackle organized crime, which has targeted betting on soccer as a profitable scam with low risks of being caught, prosecuted or sentenced heavily.

Mutschke said FIFA needs more help from national law enforcement agencies worldwide, and asked Interpol to persuade its members to help protect the world's most popular sport.

Mutschke said the "the key to success'' of his long-term strategy, shaped since joining FIFA last June, is raising integrity levels by educating referees, players and officials to resist approaches by fixers.

"I rely on law enforcement to take care of organized crime, and I would like to take care about the football family,'' said Mutschke, who selected detectives from Germany and the United States to work with him in Zurich. A third planned recruit from Britain will be based in London.

Mutschke is undertaking a global series of meetings with security officials from FIFA's 209 national members, including workshops in New York, Brazil and Ukraine in the coming weeks.

Still, he acknowledged difficulties in creating a "global alert network'' of dedicated integrity officers employed by each member to help monitor 1,500 matches - the World Cup, national team competitions and exhibitions - that FIFA has responsibility for each year.

"This is my challenge and this is my greatest doubt,'' Mutschke said at FIFA headquarters. "I will probably fail in doing so, but at least I would like to say I tried.''

UEFA has led by example, deciding in March 2011 to create a similar network among its 53 members. That initiative followed UEFA's work with prosecutors in Bochum, Germany, to break up a syndicate that fixed matches across Europe, including bribing a Bosnian referee to help fix a 2010 World Cup qualifier between Liechtenstein and Finland.

FIFA, UEFA and Interpol will lead the two-day conference in Rome, as Italy deals with its own damaging case: Juventus coach Antonio Conte has served a four-month ban for not reporting evidence and several Serie A clubs had points deducted.

Mutschke praised the model of cooperation between Italian police, prosecutors and the soccer association.

"This should be, and has to be, the response,'' Mutschke told The Associated Press in a separate interview. "I think this is the only reaction we could present to the entire world (to show) that we take the fight against match-fixing seriously.''

FIFA has had some "little successes'' in stopping corruption lately, Mutschke said.

Three match officials reported to FIFA several months ago that they were approached by a fixer while heading to the stadium.

"We could identify the guy. He's part of an FA and he's under investigation and he will be kicked out,'' said Mutschke, adding the incident was "not in Europe.''

Such brazen invitations to corruption have a 50 percent chance of success, Mutschke claimed, and make him "really crazy and upset.''

"It demonstrates to me that they have no fear,'' the 33-year German police veteran said. "They have no fear from us because nobody is reporting these approaches. My goal has to be to change the mentality within the (soccer) community.''

Cold-calling was also a tactic of Wilson Raj Perumal, the Singaporean who is notorious in match-fixing history and is in protective custody in Hungary after serving jail time in Finland.

"I have traces of Perumal in more than 50 countries,'' said Mutschke, who insisted FIFA had not dropped some of the investigations started by his predecessor Chris Eaton. "We are still interested in cleaning up (old cases) but it is difficult.''

Eaton's openly aggressive pursuit of evidence and suspects and plain speaking about them, did much to focus FIFA's attention on the scale of match-fixing after a notorious fixed double-header of exhibitions played in Antalya, Turkey, in February 2011.

Mutschke praised that "learn about your enemy'' phase, but confirmed a change in style from Eaton, who left FIFA last year to join the Qatar-backed International Centre for Sport Security.

"I'm trying to do probably the same amount of investigating but not telling you about it,'' said Mutschke, adding that he spent time talking with law enforcement agencies to "get their credibility and their trust back'' in FIFA.

While Eaton placed his team of investigators around the world, Mutschke is using his increased budget to create a centralized unit at FIFA headquarters.

"It's always a question of trust and belief if you have a core team,'' he said.

Mutschke plans to traveling widely in the next six months to press his agenda of better integrity and reporting to FIFA members.

Then, European qualifying for the World Cup enters a high-risk phase: Qualifiers pitting teams already eliminated against opponents who need points to advance to Brazil.

"I think the dream of any match-fixer would be to manipulate a World Cup match. There, the biggest amount of money is set on and bet on in Asia,'' Mutschke said. "Obviously, and thank God, that did not happen so far.''

The World Cup, FIFA's $1 billion per year revenue earner, is believed secure, so far, from match-fixing. But Mutschke acknowledges facing a daunting opponent.

"I still believe that the problem will continue for a while,'' he said.

 
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