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Remember Tim Donaghy? The now-disgraced NBA referee officiated from 1994 until 2007, when he abruptly resigned. The reason behind his resignation became obvious a mere five weeks later when he plead guilty to federal charges related to altering the outcome of NBA games for gambling purposes.
The controversy lit the powder keg of fan distrust of NBA refs. After his very public downfall, Donaghy began throwing out accusations that other notable games were fixed, including games that had been controversial for their especially bad officiating (i.e. Game Six of Kings vs. Lakers in 2002). Fans found videos of stunningly bad calls from Donaghy in crucial games, and the NBA was in full-blown crisis mode. Tim Donaghy was only alleged to have changed the point total of the games, not the victor.
With all the controversy that generated, European soccer has Tim Donaghy and the NBA by a mile. Last week, Europol—the European Union criminal intelligence agency—announced that they had uncovered 680 games where the referees had likely altered the outcome for gambling purposes. And these were merely the games that Europol caught; there were likely far more than that. The system was extremely intricate: A Singaporean mob boss orders a lieutenant in an unknown country to tell a Hungarian mid-level gangster to fly to whatever other random country the match is in and meet with the official, where the gangster then delivers the money in some laundered fashion. It is such a complex web of jurisdictions and international considerations that everyone knows who the mobster is, yet nobody can touch him.
This is far from the first such occurrence in international soccer. The sport is littered with similar controversies, and ex-FIFA head of security has stated that earnings from illegal match fixing likely reach one billion dollars in Asia alone. But don’t worry, FIFA is on the case—they’ve set up a hotline for concerned citizens to report their local soccer corruption. As toothless as that reaction seems, what is there to do? International soccer is a conglomeration of hundreds leagues and associations, and people gamble on the results of all of them. One billion dollars is a lot of money, and makes one wonder why we don’t see more referee corruption, rather than less. So why does the US only have Tim Donaghy?
If the US has particularly fairly-officiated sports, it might be because of highly criminalized nature of sports gambling in the US. While there are obviously some hotbeds of legalized gambling, many if not most Americans have settled with gambling with friends, and thus kept the money out of the Casinos where mobsters can take money from other gamblers. However, this could be a product of many other things as well; sociological concerns, well-paid referees, or the sheer volume of international soccer matches making it appear like corruption is more rampant than it is.
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