With billions of dollars in illegal soccer bets exchanged every year and allegations of match-fixing rife, the punters are often at the losing end whereas the bookmakers are having the last laugh.

The mafias and underground syndicates are often behind the fixing of soccer matches.

FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, decided that it had to act to protect the game from corruption after being shaken by recent match-fixing scandals in Germany, Italy and Brazil.

Since Asian World Cup qualifying campaign started, the fixed match issue has gained more urgency. Gambling is widespread in Asia and Asian leagues have been battling match-fixing for years.

In early year 2008, Interpol announced the results of a crackdown on illegal soccer gambling across Asia. Interpol’s secretary general, Ronald Noble, told a conference in Singapore that the authorities had shut down 272 underground gambling dens handling $650 million in illegal bets. Feldner said, “The gray market in Asia – this is a big problem.”

Unlike individual sports, team sports like soccer are more difficult to fix.

“There are 22 players, 4 officials, 2 coaching staffs, substitutes – that’s a high number of people you have to get at to fix a game,” said Herren, the FIFA spokesman. “Plus, the more people you try to bribe, the more chances you have of being exposed.”

But the more people you bribe, the more chances you have of the outcome you want.

William Gaillard, a spokesman for UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, said: “One person is not enough – you need to bribe three or four at least. The games we have doubts about are never the big games – those are too expensive to fix. What are you going to offer a player who makes €4 million a year? It’s always lower division games, maybe where two clubs have already qualified, a game that’s not televised.”

As we all know, it is easier to lose a game than to win it. Hence, goalies and defenders are the more obvious targets to bribe when you fixed a match.

Late bets, heavy bets, late and heavy underdog bets; high or low scoring; surprising draws; wide swings in the quality of play; odd or inexplicable referee calls – all of these can prompt monitors to take a closer look at a match.

FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, has often pointed to referees as a possible weak link because they are the lowest-paid people on the field. FIFA has a monitoring system that evaluates referees’ performances and removes those prone to error, said Herren, the FIFA spokesman, but “not even the best ref is protected from making a blunder.”

At the 2006 World Cup, security guards were posted outside the referees’ hotel, no direct outside calls to their rooms were allowed, and FIFA doubled their tournament pay to $40,000. Herren expects refs to earn even more at the next World Cup.

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