Could banned Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey really have been involved in a fix?

Could banned Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey really have been involved in a fix?

Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey has been banned for life by FIFA for what it calls “match manipulation”. The ban results from a penalty he awarded to South Africa in a 2-1 win over Senegal in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in November. When he penalised Kalidou Koulibaly for handball, despite replays showing that the ball hit his knee.

The win for South Africa left them in second place in the four-team group after two matches, with Senegal in third.

But presumably the result would not be binding if Lamptey is convicted of wrongdoing.

FIFA says it will give more details “once the decision becomes final and binding”.

And that may be some time as Lamptey can now appeal to Fifa and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

One of Lamptey’s assistants, David Laryea, also from Ghana, had charges against him dismissed by FIFA’s disciplinary committee.

Lamptey, who also officiated at the Rio Olympics last year, declined BBC Sport’s invitation to comment, saying he would do so later.

But of course that doesn’t sidestep the more general question: ‘Are football games rigged?’

And in that respect, I am positive they are, from time to time.

The rumours, the off the record conversations, occasionally the evidence of trusted eyes and ears suggests as much. But in terms of frequency it probably happens much less than the social media conspiracy theorists assume.

Ripe for corruption

Football is ripe for corruption in games especially where there’s little at stake and where the participants are poorly paid and poorly motivated. This is what may make games involving African and Eastern European games vulnerable and especially so as the gangs involved in fixing games are believed to be especially sophisticated in their methods.

Away from the glare of 24 hour mass media and a phalanx of cameras to capture every nuance of the game in glorious High Defination, the temptation must be great. And especially so where players’ careers have taken a dive from initially lofty heights, where players have fallen out of love with the game, with disrespectful, ignorant fans, and with the drudgery of playing, training, injuries and an endeavour notable only for its diminishing returns over time.

Looking at betting patterns you often get a sense of it and I have personally left a few games greatly concerned that what I have seen was rigged.

There’s also an unpalatable truth here for anyone spouting the delusions of football as a financial meritocracy or peddling the insidious delusions of trickle-down economics (or whatever we’re calling it these days).

Such is the iniquitous distribution of the money swilling around the game from top to bottom that ‘perhaps’ some clubs may need a timely fix, to make ends meet, to pay wages and bonuses or to meet other financial obligations. But that needn’t be overly sinister.

Economically sustainable

If you ask the question for example why are horse races fixed then the answer is self evident: because they need to be fixed to keep the sport economically sustainable. And the reality is that football, beneath the very top tiers of the game, is in exactly the same boat.

The balance of probability here suggests fixed games but it also points up more ‘enterprising’ solutions to a cash flow crisis for clubs and players.

For example it is a well-worn story within the game to hear of teams taking their win bonus pool and betting themselves to beat opponents as a means to play up their funds or ensure they can physically afford to pay out players’ bonuses. I suppose you could consider it to be akin to enacting an insurance policy.

You tend to hear whispers of iffy goings on towards the end of the season – say if a side are chasing promotion or in a meaningless game where there’s summer holidays to be paid for and the underdogs can pool their dough and back themselves at a nice, tasty big price in a series of small, relatively undetectable cash bets.

Friendlies are also ripe for manipulation. Particularly so when teams will be heavily rotating players throughout the action or fielding a shadow strength side. That needn’t be a fix as such – merely an opportunity to profit from inside information.

What I’d find harder to believe is that there is any great will to fix a Champions League last 16 tie such as Barcelona v PSG, as the naysayers in online forums would no doubt love to believe.

Risk and reward

The ratio of risk to potential reward seems wholly out of kilter in The Champions League. For multi-millionaire players at the peak of their profession with such a career-defining prize at stake? I just can’t see the appeal.

The big name referees are so well rewarded now that the ignominy associated with being caught manipulating a result is surely just not worth the risk. It may be different off the beaten track of course. And perhaps Cold War-style blackmail involving a shaming secret could engender a fix but the stars really would have to align perfectly for the fixers to get their claws into a Champions League game, played in the competition proper.

Surely also, common sense dictates that the fixers would seek to operate beneath this scrutinised Champions League level. And especially so, if the name of the game is regular profits, made beneath the radar. What’s the point of creating an expensive criminal network that is ‘one use’ only?

The one place where I suspect a potential for rigging games at the very highest level exists is in international football. Playing for your country is an increasingly unloved and downgraded ‘product’ for players and, especially for lesser nations. It is also an arena that wholly points up the gulf between the game’s haves and have nots – like nothing else in football.

There were certainly jungle drum murmurings that there were rigged games at the 2014 World Cup. But the problem with crying ‘fix’ is always that ineptitude often looks like corruption if you choose to see it that way.

That said, the betting patterns on the game between Croatia and Cameroon, apparently saw an incongruously ‘massive’ late surge of money all one way just before kick off.

Just coincidence? Maybe. The actions of a major syndicate or a response to team news? Perhaps.

The goals, the body language, Song’s inexplicable red card, the tracking back (or lack of it), the sparse effort defending and also the fight between the two Cameroon players at the end of the clip paint a very fishy picture don’t you think.? If the betting intel was just as described then wouldn’t the circumstantial evidence seem to point to a bent game?

Another consistent rumour is that there are websites that specialise in fixed games. Sites that provide a structure to manufacture a fix that brings willing parties together – like a for bad eggs.

Yes, I believe there are these sites although I have never seen one. However, they are probably not what you imagine – betting tipster sites selling info on supposed fixed games.

Rather, they are (I have heard from a very good source), dark web sites where iffy players (or their representatives) can communicate with iffy fixers and conjure up their fixed game together. I suspect you need to know someone to know someone who can put it all together. I have even heard there are price lists relating to the kind of fix required and the level of football.

This is because issues of betting liquidity are vitally important. If a criminal gang is paying big money to arrange a fix then they need to know in advance how they can get their money on at a price and at the right volume to make the enterprise (and its risks) worthwhile.

This is an excellent video highlights package of Cameroon v Croatia:

Fix or not? You decide.

As for the Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey, we’ll just have to wait and see what transpires.