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Matches being fixed in Scotland? It's odds-on

THE Scottish football authorities this week launched their Keep It Clean campaign to try to keep the growing threat of match-fixing at bay.

Norwegian football was targeted for match-fixing and it has still to recover fully. Picture: EuroFootball
Norwegian football was targeted for match-fixing and it has still to recover fully. Picture: EuroFootball

It is akin to trying to stem the flow of the tide with a barrier made out of ice lolly sticks.

The Scottish Football Association and their partners are well-intentioned in trying to put in place as many preventative measures as possible - the latest being an Integrity Hotline for reporting suspicious activity, the appointment of a new security and integrity officer, and an awareness pack for all 42 senior clubs. Yet the intoxicating combination of means, greed and opportunity, means that completely eliminating the possibility that a Scottish football game could be fixed at some point is virtually impossible. The sums of money at stake, and the wiles and resources of criminal gambling syndicates, unfortunately make that so.

Match-fixing has spread across the globe in recent years like a flu epidemic. What was once viewed as a problem only affecting Asia began to take root in Eastern Europe and continued to creep west and north from there. The idea that only countries rife with poverty and corruption were affected was dismissed when a case cropped up in Germany.

Most recently, and significantly, there have been high-profile incidents reported in England recently and a number of arrests made. It was the starkest warning yet that it could happen here too. Anyone naive enough to think Scotland could somehow remain immune to it all presumably also still believes the moon is made of blue cheese.

They never thought match-fixing could happen in Norway, but events in the summer of 2012 reset their thinking. The repercussions are still being felt to this day.

Two matches in the Norwegian third tier were considered to have been fixed. In one game, Ostsiden IL came from 3-0 down to beat Follo FK 4-3. In another, Asker beat Frigg 7-1. Follo felt something was afoot and alerted the Norwegian Football Association. There were numerous arrests.

The Norwegian FA then took the unprecedented step of postponing the first division match between Ullensaker/Kisa and Ham Kam because of suspicious betting activity. There was talk of Swedish mafia involvement, Kosovan gangs and money laundering.

An investigation was launched that involved the players union, the police and even the country's politicians. "There is no doubt that match-fixing is a devastating problem to sport when it occurs, and that it threatens the whole foundation which sport rests on," Anniken Huitfeldt, Norway's culture minister, said at the time.

The furore died down quickly, largely because the personalities involved were fairly low-profile, but it has left a stain on the game's reputation that has been hard to shift. The various stakeholders in Norwegian football have doubled their resolve to ensure it does not happen again and have been spreading the word to others to try to save them from the same fate. The message, though, comes through loud and clear: eventually this will visit your door too.

"It took us all by surprise, some more than others," Joachim Walltin, president of the Norwegian players union, told Herald Sport. "I had heard a lot through FIFPro [the international players union] about what had been happening in Eastern Europe for a few years. And when match-fixing then came to Finland we felt it was then only a matter of time before we had some attempts in Norway too. But, still, we were not prepared.

"We hadn't developed any routines to respond to all of this. My message to Scottish football would be to be as prepared as possible because it's only a matter of time before it happens there too."

Eighteen months later and the Norwegian cases are still unresolved. They may never be, or certainly not to everyone's satisfaction. "These things take a lot of time to sort out," added Walltin. "The incidents happened here in the summer of 2012 and there is still no conclusion. It is hard to get evidence. There have been a lot of discussions and a lot of questions that are still not answered. Many of the issues are still with the police to deal with."

Some good has come out of an otherwise dispiriting episode. "Awareness is higher and people are on alert, looking for signs", added Walltin. "There are routines now in place if it happens again.

"Everyone wants the same thing. Match-fixing is the enemy and it will destroy our game. All you can try to do is be prepared the best you can. But sometimes the people involved will still find a way."

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