What’s your dream job? Mine is football referee. The salary may not be that great, but, like they say, it’s the fringe benefits that count. And although I’m not a natural-born fraudster, I think I possess enough creativity to go far in the business. Well, in terms of making money, anyway.
The current Thai crackdown on match-fixing has confirmed my belief that football referees are professionals sitting on gold mines. The best part is you don’t even have to play the game, let alone be as fantastic as Lionel Messi or Neymar or Cristiano Ronaldo. Just make sure you know the rules – which are all over the Internet anyway – and are able to jog (with plenty of breaks) for 90 minutes.
The police action, launched in cooperation with the Football Association, focuses on players and Thai Premier League club executives. But to become a player you need to be good at the sport, while to be a club chief you have to be rich. Becoming a referee is far easier.
The referee and linesman implicated in probably the biggest scandal to have rocked Thai football allegedly committed a common fraud – taking bribes. Mind you, as lucrative as bribery can be, it usually involves too many people, meaning no matter how careful you are, somebody else in the chain can screw up and give the game away.
Here’s what I would do if I was a football referee: Get a distant relative and/or trusted friend to open a betting account with a popular gambling website – let’s say William Hill.
Why not an underground bookie? Because to work, my scheme needs a legitimate gambling site. It’s the whole point. Black-market bookies and bettors are too smart to get involved in results that referees and linesmen have too much control over. The underground people are not that interested in, say, how many red or yellow cards or penalties a match will feature.
Outfits like William Hill and their customers are, however. And here’s where my whistle can bring me big fortunes. A quick glance at William Hill’s website and those of other legitimate bookies reveals countless opportunities. There are attractive odds on yellow cards exceeding a certain number in a game, whether there will be a straight red card, whether there will be a penalty, whether there will be penalties on both sides, and so on.
As you can see, my small but trusted network can rob legitimate bookies blind. Yellow cards, red cards and penalties are definitely my calls and mine alone. I can decide to give them or not, whatever the rest of the world thinks. This is not to mention “grey-area” incidents, which I can either ignore or point to the spot or bring my cards out of my pocket.
I wouldn’t be worried at having to make decisions that millions of people fume over. Excuses have already been made for me. “The ref doesn’t have the benefit of a slow-motion TV replay.” “The ref only had a split second to make that decision.” “The ref was looking somewhere else and didn’t see the incident.” “That was a minor foul, but I have seen players booked for less.”
As you can see, the whole system is set up for me to cheat. Of course, there are barriers here and there but none that I can’t find a way around..
So why do legitimate betting operators have to give odds on decisions that depend entirely on referees? Underground gambling is often condemned, but the truth is that licensed bookies are playing a bigger role in corrupting popular sports. And it’s not just the referees. Players can, say, deliberately get themselves booked after prompting their “networks” to bet on a high number of yellow cards in a game.
These kind of legitimate bets are spawning cheats in various sports, from top to bottom. While underground operators are busy running away from police or keeping them at bay, licensed bookies are enjoying the freedom to offer odds with mouth-watering returns on, for example, whether a card will be shown in the first 10 minutes or not.
William Hill and the likes will not stop offering those bets anytime soon. Although some referees with my creativity may be cheating them already, the bookies must still be making handsome profits. I can see no other reason for keeping these silly bets.
Players manipulating the outcome of games will continue to be the main subject of investigation into sport corruption. Referees and club owners will feature in scandals here and there. But we know where the root of the problems lies, don’t we?
Legitimate betting operators will continue wielding their “freedom”, acting like capricious gods by extending temptation to everyone while they themselves get away scot-free.