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Monday, May 9, 2011
Updated: May 10, 8:55 AM ET
FIFA pledges millions to anti-fixing fight

Associated Press

ZURICH -- FIFA is forging closer ties with Interpol to crack down on match-fixing and betting fraud in soccer, saying such corruption threatens fans' faith in the sport.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter says his group has pledged $29 million toward programs over 10 years to educate players, referees and officials worldwide.

Blatter said if fans "cannot believe any longer [in] football because matches are fixed, then in such a case FIFA would lose all credibility."

The project -- funded by the biggest private donation ever received by Interpol -- will operate from the international police agency's new base in Singapore.

Singapore has emerged in recent months as a common link in match-fixing scandals, including international exhibition games set up purely for betting scams.

In one highly publicized case, a Feb. 9 doubleheader played in Antalya, Turkey -- involving Latvia, Bolivia, Bulgaria and Estonia -- all seven goals came on penalty kicks. FIFA has charged six match officials from Hungary and Bosnia.

Blatter and Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble signed the agreement at FIFA headquarters after meeting detectives leading inquiries in Finland and Germany.

Both organizations have limited investigative powers and must rely on governments and law enforcement agencies to pursue cases.

"It is crucial for us to go together with political authorities and police authorities to fight those that want to destroy our game," Blatter said.

Noble said online betting and match-fixing offered a "perfect mix" for international organized crime syndicates.

"It's high profit, a low risk of getting caught, with very low penalties," Noble said. "Just about every act that occurs in a match is the opportunity to make a huge amount of profits."

Europe's biggest match-fixing investigation is being conducted by German police in Bochum who have investigated 300 people and 300 suspect games, including a World Cup qualifying match.

Finland became the focus in February when police arrested a second Singaporean businessman linked to match-fixing claims in the Finnish league and Asia.

Lead investigator Jouko Ikonen said the first players were convicted in court last week, and more cases would follow in June. Noble said increased media reporting of suspicious matches had prompted FIFA and Interpol to act.

"We needed to do something to make sure the public realizes that this is a problem that's long-term," the Interpol head said. "It's a problem that's going to require law enforcement to train those groups most likely to be targeted."