With roughly two weeks remaining before the opening kickoff of the 2014 World Cup, FIFA is still scrambling to make sure the sport’s biggest event goes off without a hitch. According to FIFA security chief Ralf Mutschke, that includes doing everything in their power to avoid a match-fixing scandal.
In light of recent rumours about this week’s friendly between Nigeria and Scotland, Mutschke spoke on the possibility of another controversy striking in Brazil. The insinuations were not exactly comforting.
“We are not expecting fixers to be traveling to Brazil and knocking on the hotel door of players or referees, but I know there will have been approaches to players and referees,” Mutschke said to the BBC.
It is unclear at this time which sides will be under the watchful eye of international football’s governing body.
Match-fixing is one of the deepest-rooted controversies in football at the international and club levels. Gamblers often target players or teams with little to lose—ones who can be swayed into making an extra sum of cash to influence the score. It often thrives in lower levels of the sport, when minimally paid players are given offers they cannot refuse.
Still, the problem carries over into high-profile international competition and even the World Cup. Pre-match chatter ran rampant prior to Nigeria and Scotland’s 2-2 draw on Wednesday night.
The Telegraph reported Great Britain’s National Crime Agency is currently investigating whether the match between Scotland and Nigeria was fixed after suspicious betting patterns showed up in the days prior to the game. The NCA has been in contact with the Scottish Football Association, according to The Scotsman’s Chris Marshall and Stephen Halliday.
In particular, many have highlighted a strange own goal from Nigerian goaltender Austin Ejide, who appeared to purposely throw the ball into the net.
Nigeria-Scotland is a perfect example of the types of matches typically targeted. Neither side stood to gain much other than a warm-up, and Scotland did not even qualify for the World Cup.
Mutschke refused to name Nigeria or any other country, but did insinuate FIFA will be flagging some groups and teams more than others.
“I cannot tell you the teams we are watching most closely,” Mutschke told BBC. “I can’t tell you the groups which we are watching most closely. But I will say that England’s group is not the highest risk.”
England plays in Group D with Italy, Costa Rica and Uruguay. Nigeria is in Group F with Argentina, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Iran.
The Nigerians are expected to compete with Bosnia and Herzegovina for second place in the group round, with Iran lagging far behind the other three group members.
There has been no confirmation of any wrongdoing at this point, so it would be unfair to insinuate Group F is the one Mutschke is hinting at.
But a match-fixing scandal is the worst possible outcome for a World Cup that has already gone through numerous protests, delays and nine deaths during construction.
Brazil has taken flak from its own citizens and worldwide every step of the way.
With construction completed just in time, it’s likely that officials are anxiously anticipating when the storylines can shift toward the on-field product.
Now that Mutschke’s words are even calling that into question, it’s going to be a tense couple weeks before things get underway.