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Doug Gillon: spot-fixing is a pock mark which disfigures the beautiful game

SPOT-FIXING - rarely far from the mind of teenage acne-sufferers.

Sodje is alleged to have told a bogus fixer that he could arrange outcomes in games. Picture: Getty
Sodje is alleged to have told a bogus fixer that he could arrange outcomes in games. Picture: Getty

Clearasil, I recall, was a heavily promoted remedy. But now this is an international plague which disfigures the beautiful game, and it will almost certainly require the formation of a global police force to address it.

That's what happens when sport metamorphoses from kids' fun to a multi-billion adult industry. Excessive rewards feed greed, and corruption is rarely far behind.

Spot-fixing is the most difficult betting manipulation to address. It's not necessarily about rigging the result of a match, simply orchestrating a one-off incident: a red or yellow card, penalty, no-ball or wide.

The former Portsmouth and Charlton player, Sam Sodje, it is alleged by a Sunday red-top, received £70,000 when he was sent off for punching Jose Baxter during Oldham's 1-0 victory last February. Capped four times by Nigeria, Sodje is one of six people arrested and bailed without charge in an investigation by the National Crime Agency. Others include Tranmere's Ian Goodison, capped 120 times by Jamaica, and Blackburn's DJ Campbell, a player reportedly earning £1m a year.

Sodje, it's claimed, told a bogus fixer that for a fee of 10s of thousands he could arrange for a Championship player to be given a red or yellow card. Sodje also claimed he could fix Premier League matches and that he was preparing to fix World Cup games in Brazil.

The revelations prompted the department of culture media and sport to summon five sports: football, cricket, tennis, horse-racing and rugby (both union and league) to Whitehall yesterday to discuss ways of tackling fixing.

FA general secretary Alex Horne emerged from the meeting to insist that match-fixing is not widespread in the game - a triumph of hope over experience, perhaps. Horne conceded the need not to be complacent, but given that four British players were arrested and charged with alleged match-fixing in Australia this year (and suspended by FIFA), and that another newspaper investigation uncovered match-fixing in England, perhaps the FA have already failed the complacency test.

The latter of these two investigations will result in Michael Boateng and Hakeem Adelakun appearing in Birmingham Magistrates' Court today. They are alleged to have been involved with Chann Sankaran and Krishna Sanjey Ganeshan in a Singapore-based betting syndicate during November this year. The latter pair are remanded in custody until Friday. Boateng and Adelakun face 10 years if convicted, but have already been judged and found guilty by Brighton non-league club Whitehawk, who have sacked them for having brought the club into disrepute.

The British Horseracing Authority and cricket are more proactive, and the FA will study their approach. They might also learn something from the Scottish PFA who can point to a two-day FIFpro and UEFA course: "Don't Fix It", which they attended in Budapest during the summer. The aim is to establish a reporting mechanism for those approached by fixers.

The upper echelons of football may well have felt rewards at that level insulate them from corrupt betting. However, with some players admitting to have gambled and lost millions, corrupt forces could gain leverage on them. But most of those accused are not earning the vast salaries of the Premiership, and might more readily succumb to temptation. Giving bookies a bashing probably seems like victimless crime.

Especially if said bookies are continents-removed, in Asia where the gaming industry is worth $500bn. Snooker (which has already felt established an "integrity unit") and cricket are hugely popular there. Sir Henry Newbolt's fabled "ribboned coat" is a faded relic of the Corinthian era. Players from England, Pakistan, India, South Africa, Australia, West Indies, and Kenya have all been disciplined for match-fixing.

The dressing-room omerta is compelling, even without vast sums or fear of physical threat. Consider the disturbingly effective silence on doping in Olympic sport, where financial rewards are minimal compared to those in professional football, cricket, or horse-racing. Then one can begin to gauge how difficult policing the sport gaming industry might be. Yet a belief that sporting endeavour is honest has to be fundamental. Without ethics and trust, sport is nothing. Without these, sponsors, media, participants will depart in droves. This is a battle for the soul of sport.

In May of this year, sports ministers and senior government officials from all UNESCO members met to discuss and make recommendations on the greatest challenges in international sport.

At its close, 137 nations unanimously signed the Berlin Declaration. It is dominated by issues involving direct and cross-border threats to the values and integrity of sport, notably match-fixing, doping and other forms of corruption.

Combatting betting corruption will take a new global force, akin to the World Anti-Doping Agency, but with sharper teeth than WADA. Perhaps there may even be a case for merging WADA and the as-yet-to-be-formed anti-corruption agency.

I believe the labourer - the professional sportsman - is worthy of his or her hire. In my adult lifetime, England Test players have had to go on benefit in the close season, a child athlete has been suspended for competing for a packet of sweets, and working-class athletes have been considered unworthy of a GB vest - a shameful shibboleth.

Few today, surely, persist in the belief that sport should be the preserve of the "amateur", yet many must deplore what the advent of massive rewards have done to the spirit of sport.

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