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National Sports

February 5, 2013

Putting the fix on soccer played around the world?

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Organized crime gangs have fixed or tried to fix hundreds of soccer matches around the world in recent years, including World Cup and European Championship qualifiers and two Champions League games, Europol announced Monday.

The European Union’s police agency said an 18-month review found 380 suspicious matches in Europe and another 300 questionable games outside the continent, mainly in Africa, Asia and South and Central America. It also found evidence that a Singapore-based crime syndicate was involved in some of the match-fixing.

Europol refused to name any suspected matches, players, officials or match-fixers, saying that would compromise ongoing national investigations, so it remained unclear how much of the information divulged Monday was new or had already been revealed in trials across the continent.

Even so, the picture painted by Europol was the latest body blow for the credibility of sports in general, following cyclist Lance Armstrong’s admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs in all seven of his Tour de France wins.

“This is a sad day for European football (soccer),” Europol Director Rob Wainwright told reporters. He said criminals were cashing in on soccer corruption “on a scale and in a way that threatens the very fabric of the game.”

Europol said 425 match officials, club officials, players and criminals from at least 15 countries were involved in fixing European soccer games dating back to 2008.

Ralf Mutschke, director of security at FIFA, the world soccer body, said the report highlighted the need for soccer authorities and police to tackle corruption together.

“The support of law enforcement bodies, legal investigations, and ultimately tougher sanctions are required, as currently there is low risk and high gain potential for the fixers,” he said.

Mutschke said while FIFA can ban players, referees and club officials, it is powerless to sanction people not directly involved in the sport.

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