Rabat - Several things come to mind when football fans think about the biannual Africa Cup of Nations tournament:
Rabat – Several things come to mind when football fans think about the biannual Africa Cup of Nations tournament:
Exciting, free-flowing football. Opportunities to generate cultural awareness. Non-traditional footballing nations making deep runs in the knockout stage. And…match fixing?
For all the good that comes out of Africa’s premier footballing showcase, it seems every tournament also brings along ugly rumors of match fixing.
No region of the footballing world is of course immune to this type of corruption, but these incidents seem to occur with striking regularity in (and sometimes even before) the AFCON.
You could quite literally put money on it. Casino.org odds expert Kevin Horridge notes of AFCON fixtures: “We’ve certainly seen a trend during the Cup of Nations where fans will feel ‘safer’ making bets on teams that have had that kind of accusation levelled at them. If people can see a particular team benefitting from a run of unlikely outcomes they will start betting in that direction. There’s a perception that certain nations will make sure they are going all the way. And yes, that does reflect how people bet.”
The 1984 Africa Cup of Nations resulted in Cameroon’s first tournament title. While the Indomitable Lions played solid football throughout the tournament, their accomplishment may have benefited from not having to face defending (and four-time) champions Ghana, who failed to advance to the knockout round. Decades after the fact, evidence began to emerge that this was no happy accident.
In 2012, former Algeria midfielder Mohammed Shoib admitted that his country conspired with Nigeria to eliminate Ghana in the group stage. Going into the final match day, Ghana needed to defeat Malawi and also have Algeria defeat Nigeria in order to advance to the semi-finals. An Algeria-Nigeria draw on the other hand would keep Cameroon out of the next stage. Not-so-coincidentally, that’s exactly what happened.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a shock since a strikingly similar scenario took place between Germany and Austria to eliminate Algeria from the 1982 World Cup. But the incident wouldn’t be the last time two nations connived to keep out another of the AFCON knockout round.
In the 2010 tournament, Algeria and Angola played to a 0-0 draw in the final match of Group A. The result allowed both nations to advance to the next stage in place of Mali, who was tied with the other two on points but lost out on tiebreaker procedures.
The Malawians were quick to file an official complaint with CAF, stating that the non-match played between Algeria and Angola was “unsportsmanlike, unethical and contrary to the fair play advocated by FIFA and CAF,” but no disciplinary action was ever taken.
The Hotel Incident
Scandal in the tournament hasn’t just been limited to teams acting in their best interests (however unsportsmanlike it may be).
Two days before his team’s opening match against Algeria at the 2008 tournament, Mali head coach Reinhard Fabisch was approached by a man at his team’s hotel. The man claimed to represent a Singapore-based company that had the ability to fix African football matches and asked Fabisch if he had any interest in manipulating the Algeria match, in exchange for money won from bets on the game.
Fabisch, a German, told the man he had two minutes to leave the hotel before he called the police. He later told the media about the incident. But the direct, nonchalant approach of the man who claimed he could fix matches is an unfortunate sign that this tactic has probably worked on African players and coaches before, and without much need for discretion.
The Latest Scandal
Even AFCON Qualifiers haven’t been immune to the perils of match fixing. In March 2016, a Swaziland-Zimbabwe Group L qualification match ended in a 1-1 draw that seemed innocent enough. But details emerged soon after that Zimbabwean Football Association executive and former player Edzai Kasinauyo had been in contact with an Asian match fixing syndicate.
Kasinauyo, along with several accomplices, tried to convince three Zimbabwean players to lose both their matches against Swaziland by two goal deficits, in exchange for $15,000 each. An inside whistleblower later revealed the scheme, resulting in Kasinauyos suspension, firing and a 10-year ban from the sport despite his pleas of innocence.
A Fraudulent Future?
There’s a number of reasons why the Cup of Nations seems particularly susceptible to match fixing. Less global attention and money (in the grand scheme of things) at stake likely makes fishy behavior harder to detect by would-be media whistleblowers. Desperate economic situations in the nations competing also makes players and coaches more receptive to fixing attempts as well.
Given that no level of football anywhere in the world today seems to be immune to scandal, it’s impossible to nail down the cause of persistent AFCON corruption to just a few reasons. One could argue that last year’s scandal during qualification puts this January’s tournament under a spotlight that fixers would want to stay away from.
But in a tournament that still doesn’t receive the global attention it perhaps deserves and in a year in which world politics and markets are more volatile than ever, it could be another rough one for Africa. The AFCON sadly seems to still be ripe for corruption as long as the allure of money outweighs the allure of playing an honest game.