Friday, April 5, 2013
FIFA: World Cup qualifying is clean of fixing
ZURICH -- FIFA's top investigator believes the 2014 World Cup qualifying program has been clean of match-fixing after more than 500 matches.
"Up to now we don't have any leads that any match has been thrown," FIFA security director Ralf Mutschke told The Associated Press on Friday. "We are also confident that nothing will happen through the qualification."
The full program of about 820 preliminary matches ends in November.
Hours before Mutschke spoke at a FIFA-sponsored conference on match-fixing and betting, football's governing body reached agreement with South African officials on how to complete an investigation into the 2010 World Cup host's allegedly manipulated warm-up matches before the tournament.
South Africa's government will set up an independent commission to examine how Wilson Raj Perumal, since convicted, apparently hired referees to fix match results. The case could implicate national soccer federation president Kirsten Nematandani, who attended the meeting at FIFA headquarters.
Two months ago, Europol, the European Union police liaison agency, said it reviewed 680 suspicious recent cases of fixing, including some World Cup games.
"This is stuff from the past," Mutschke said. "I understand they were old qualifiers and not for this tournament."
In the only recent prosecuted case of World Cup match-fixing, UEFA banned a Bosnian referee for life. The ref colluded with a Croatian-led syndicate for a betting scam tied to his handling of a qualifier between Liechtenstein and Finland in September 2009.
Mutschke, a German former Interpol officer, suggested that clubs being infiltrated by mafia figures were at more risk than FIFA's signature event.
"The infiltration of organized crime on a club level is more than I expected a year ago, even in Europe," he said. "They are basically offering, like a sponsor or investor, to help out with financial problems, offering to pay salaries for the players because of match-fixing."
South Africa sports minister Fikile Mbalula and his government agreed to lead a match-fixing probe that has stalled and resulted in Nematandani being suspended from office and then reinstated within weeks. FIFA and the South Africa Football Association haven't identified which matches might have been fixed. But a 5-0 win over Guatemala and 2-1 win over Colombia in May 2010 have long been under suspicion. Three penalties were awarded in each match, most for hand balls.
The "long-standing case" was harming South African soccer, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said.
"It is vital that this matter, which dates back to 2010, is concluded soon, with the culprits to be sanctioned in accordance with the zero tolerance policy," Valcke said.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter and anti-corruption adviser Mark Pieth addressed delegates at a conference that also studied ethical management in sports.
Blatter confirmed that the issue of stripping his 97-year-old predecessor Joao Havelange of the honorary FIFA presidency following a kickbacks scandal could be discussed at next month's congress of 209 football nations in Mauritius.
Blatter said last July that his predecessor "cannot remain honorary president" after a Swiss prosecutor's report was published confirming that Havelange received millions of dollars from World Cup broadcasting deals in the 1990s.
"There has not been any proposals (to strip Havelange's title), but it's on the agenda," Blatter said.
AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray in Johannesburg contributed to this report.