'The Dirty Game' — AP probe into international soccer fraud

Feb. 12, 2013
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The Dirty Game
In this Nov. 5, 2012 photo, Croatian soccer player Mario Cizmek is seen at a stadium in Zagreb. Cizmek was sentenced involvement in match fixing. Former player Mario Cizmek was convicted of rigging games in Croatia's first division in 2010. At his trial and in subsequent interviews with The Associated Press, he spoke about the unwritten rules of match-fixing (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
The Dirty Game
This July 8, 2007 file photo shows people playing soccer in the mud of the Elbe River near Brunsbuettel, some ten kilometers off the North Sea, northern Germany.  Soccer is falling under a cloud of suspicion as never before, sullied by a multibillion-dollar web of match-fixing that is staining increasingly larger parts of the world's most popular sport. (AP Photo/Heribert Proepper)
A months-long probe into match-fixing in international soccer is being published over four days, starting Feb. 12. AP sent the following advisory outlining the series and its multiformat elements to member editors and other global customers:

The Associated Press is launching a series called The Dirty Game — a six-month, multiformat investigation into how organized crime is besieging the world of soccer, fixing hundreds of games to generate billions in betting profits.

Crime gangs have bribed players, referees and soccer officials in dozens of countries and even bought entire teams to chase the astounding profits that soccer betting can bring. The deluge is threatening the credibility of the world's most popular sport.

Europol, the European Union police body, has found at least 680 "suspicious" soccer matches around the world since 2008. AP reporters have interviewed experts on three continents who suggest those figures may be low. The sports betting monitoring group Sportradar estimates there could be 300 tainted games a year in Europe alone.

The Dirty Game package will run over four days, from Tuesday to Friday, Feb. 12-15. It will consist of eight text stories; three text glances; photos; broadcast and online video and audio clips:

  • Eight stories will include an overview of the issue; profiles of three people who were convicted of match-fixing — a player, a soccer official and an organized crime figure — as well as looks at police investigators, referees and crime syndicates and a visit to a remote Asian border boomtown where sports betting is a way of life.
  • The glances will include a quote box, a glossary of match-fixing lingo overheard on police wiretaps and a list of the "unwritten rules" of match-fixing that one player discovered only after his soccer career was destroyed by an opportunistic fixer.
  • A 5-minute video story will be available for APTN clients on Tuesday.
  • A video story will be available to AP online video clients on Tuesday.
  • AP Video Hub will offer a raw video package and clips from recent news conferences and interviews on match-fixing beginning Tuesday.
  • An audio Q&A will be available for AP radio clients on Tuesday.
  • AP Mobile will feature a "Big Story" section to showcase all the stories, glances, photos and video beginning Tuesday.
  • AP's Twitter feed will feature each story in the series, using the hashtags #APdirtygame and #matchfixing.
  • AP will hold a Reddit IMA online chat the week of Feb. 18 after the entire series has moved. The date and time will be broadcast on Twitter and in a wire advisory.

Moving TUESDAY, Feb. 12:

  • THE DIRTY GAME — Soccer is falling under a cloud of suspicion as never before, sullied by a multibillion-dollar web of match-fixing that is corrupting increasingly larger parts of the world's most popular sport. Criminal gangs are realizing that it can be vastly easier to shift gambling profits across borders than drugs or contraband, while unscrupulous soccer officials are dipping into the ocean of money generated by sports betting. The very credibility of the sport is at risk. By Sheila Norman-Culp.
  • THE DIRTY GAME: THE INVESTIGATORS — More than 210,000 phone calls tapped. More than 150 suspects placed under investigation. Hundreds of matches analyzed in all four of Italy's professional soccer divisions. Dozens arrested and scores more facing warrants. Italian prosecutor Roberto Di Martino, working out of his small office in northern Italy, is chasing match-fixers and organized crime figures across the globe. By Andrew Dampf and Graham Dunbar.

With:

  • THE DIRTY GAME: MATCH-FIXING RULES — One player now going to jail for his role in a match-fixing scam details the unwritten rules of match-fixing: You always need a goalie, the more players involved the better, and if you fix just one game crime lords have you at their mercy for life. By Sheila Norman-Culp.
  • THE DIRTY GAME: QUOTES — Quote box.

Moving WEDNESDAY, Feb 13:

  • THE DIRTY GAME: THE PLAYER — An interview with a player convicted of match-fixing before he goes to off to jail, looking at a tick-tock of how it all went down. The reporting includes police wiretaps and court transcripts. How did the fixer infiltrate the team, hand out sealed envelopes of euros and dictate when and how the goals were scored? The player expresses deep regret at how he ruined his life for $650. By Sheila Norman-Culp and Jovana Gec.
  • THE DIRTY GAME: THE OFFICIAL — Some of the world's top match-fixers never even appear on the field: They are soccer club officials. A major report on corruption has detailed the rise of "chairman-to-chairman" fixing, where club officials decide what the score will be and order players to achieve that. The reason? So someone can reap enormous betting profits or get their team into a more prestigious — and lucrative — league. A detailed look at one such official. By Suzan Fraser and Nesha Starcevic.

With:

  • THE DIRTY GAME: CODES — A glance at the secret codes used by criminal gangs to talk about match-fixing as overheard by European police on wiretaps.

Moving THURSDAY, Feb. 14:

  • THE DIRTY GAME: THE REFEREE — With scores in soccer games so low, one person alone can have an enormous effect on the result: the referee. Tainted refs have a host of tricks to employ to get what they want — the fake handball call, the no-offsides call, sending off a player. AP takes a look at several suspicious games in which referees were investigated. By Graham Dunbar and Jerome Pugmire.
  • THE DIRTY GAME: THE TURNCOAT — What happens when a fixer realizes that a rival Asian crime gang has handed him over to police on a platter? It's payback time — and he is spilling the beans about match-fixing operations across the world. A look at a convicted match-fixer who FIFA says may have been active in more than 50 countries. By John Leicester.

Moving FRIDAY, Feb. 15:

  • THE DIRTY GAME: THE MONEY MAN — Italian prosecutors investigating dozens of league and cup games they believe were fixed have followed a trail back to a mysterious figure in Singapore, where they allege a 48-year-old "capo" leads an Asian crime syndicate that allegedly made millions betting on fixed Italian games from 2008 to 2011. By Andrew Dampf and John Leicester.
  • THE DIRTY GAME: GAMBLING DEN — Soccer betting is illegal in Cambodia, but visitors to this seedy border town wouldn't know it. In the rundown market where the smell of incense mixes with rotting garbage, the betting goes on 24 hours a day inside shiny parlors emblazoned with photos of famous European soccer players. By Chris Brummitt.

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