ESPN.com - All the world is staged
THE WORLD'S MOST popular game is also its most corrupt, with investigations into match fixing ongoing in more than 25 countries. Here's a mere sampling of events since the beginning of last year: Operation Last Bet rocked the Italian Football Federation, with 22 clubs and 52 players awaiting trial for fixing matches; the Zimbabwe Football Association banned 80 players from its national-team selection due to similar accusations; Lu Jun, the first Chinese referee of a World Cup match, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for taking more than $128,000 in bribes to fix outcomes in the Chinese Super League; prosecutors charged 57 people with match fixing in the South Korean K-League, four of whom later died in suspected suicides; the team director of second-division Hungarian club REAC Budapest jumped off a building after six of his players were arrested for fixing games; and in an under-21 friendly, Turkmenistan reportedly beat Maldives 3-2 in a "ghost match" -- neither country knew about the contest because it never actually happened, yet bookmakers still took action and fixers still profited.
Soccer match fixing has become a massive worldwide crime, on par with drug trafficking, prostitution and the trade in illegal weapons. As in those criminal enterprises, the match-fixing industry has been driven by opportunistic greed. According to Interpol figures, sports betting has ballooned into a $1 trillion industry, 70 percent of which is gambled on soccer. The explosive growth reflects the rise of online gambling, which has turned local bookies into global merchants, flooded by money from every continent. Asian bookmakers alone see a $2 billion weekly turnover, according to Eaton. "It's now one huge liquid market," says David Forrest, an economics professor at the University of Salford in Manchester, England, who specializes in the study of sports gambling. "Liquidity is the friend of the fixer. You can put down big bets without notice and without changing the odds against yourself."
For the soccer gambler, the buffet of betting options is endless. FIFA recognizes 208 soccer federations, each governing its country's professional leagues and national teams, which are split into several age groups. The total number of pro and national soccer teams worldwide far exceeds 10,000. On sbobet.com, one of the largest legal books in Southeast Asia, a gambler can bet on dozens of matches daily, from the English Premier League to the Indonesian Super League to the Ukrainian youth championships. And the betting options climb exponentially when you consider the dramatic upsurge in real-time propositional bets. Gambling on soccer online now resembles the stock market, with constant fluctuations and instantaneous arbitrage.