Fans follow sporting events to enjoy the unpredictability of heated competition. Unfortunately, game-fixing can taint sports by determining the outcomes of contests and, in turn, cheating fans of the thrill of genuine sports rivalry.
One such type of match-fixing is the kind that involves manipulating results to secure a better position either in playoff brackets or for future seasons. In the NBA, for example, some teams have been accused of tanking games near the end of a regular season to avoid particular opponents in the playoffs or to secure a better draft position. It’s even more deplorable, however, when match-fixing is done to influence a particular betting outcome. In these cases, players or officials are bribed by gamblers to produce sporting results in their favor. This practice is very difficult to prove, and for this reason, some of the game-fixing bribery cases that appear on the list that follows have either been dismissed by courts or are under appeal.
Here are ten of the biggest match-fixing bribery scandals in sports history arranged according to the amounts paid for the alleged deeds, the values having been adjusted for inflation:
10. Nikolay Davydenko / Tennis / Alleged Bribe Amount: Undetermined
In August of 2007, Russian Nikolay Davydenko was playing against unheralded Martin Vassallo Argüello in Sopot when he withdrew from the match in the third set due to a foot injury. The withdrawal normally wouldn’t have been big news, but it was learned later on that online British gambling company Belfair had registered betting on the match in the amount of nearly $7 million, ten times the usual total. Nine people based in Russia had bet $1.5 million on Argüello winning, while two unknown people would have gained $6 million from the unexpected result. Due to the irregularities, all bets were voided and the longest game-fixing investigation in tennis history was conducted.
More than a year after the match, Nikolay was cleared of any involvement in sports-fixing. However, many circles still believe that the irregular betting patterns and Davydenko’s withdrawal from the match were more than just a mere coincidence.
9. NBA Referee Tim Donaghy / Basketball / Alleged Bribe Amount: $32,500
In July of 2007, a columnist of the New York Post wrote a story about an investigation by the FBI into allegations that an NBA referee had betted on games and controlled the point spread. That referee turned out to be veteran referee Tim Donaghy, who had served the NBA for thirteen seasons from 1994 to 2007. It was later revealed that Donaghy had suffered from a gambling problem and had placed tens of thousands of dollars in bets on games during the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons after being approached by low-level mob associates to work on a gambling scheme.
Soon after the story broke, Tim surrendered to the FBI and pleaded guilty to the illegal gambling charges. Donaghy would reveal in court that he had used coded language to tip his handlers and initially received $2,000 per correct pick, the amount later being increased to $5,000. The total money he collected from bookies, he claimed, amounted to $30,000. As a result, a Brooklyn Federal Court sentenced Tim to fifteen months in prison and was charged $1.4 million by the NBA to reimburse the costs of his pay, airfare, meals, complimentary game tickets, and other expenses, including $750 in shoes.
Donaghy left prison on November 4, 2009 after serving his sentence.
8. Bundesliga Referee Robert Hoyzer / Football / Alleged Bribe Amount: $110,000
In January of 2005, Bundesliga referee Robert Hoyzer admitted receiving a plasma TV and €67,000 for fixing the results of four Bundesliga matches and unsuccessfully attempting to influence the outcome of two others. Among the most infamous of these matches was the first-round German Cup tie between third-division SC Paderborn and Hamburger SV in August of 2004. HSV had taken a two-goal lead before Hoyzer awarded two penalties to Paderborn for non-existent fouls. He wasn’t satisfied with the intervention and even sent off Hamburg striker Emile Mpenza for arguing. In the end, Paderborn won the match 4-2.
Robert had been convinced to take the bribes from three Berlin-based Croatian brothers, who in turn won large sums by betting on the rigged matched. Later, it was revealed that Paderborn captain Thijs Waterink, whose flop in the Bundesliga area had allowed for the first bogus penalty to be called, had been given €10,000 by a southern-looking gentleman who told Waterink to distribute the amount to his team in the event of victory.
After the revelations, police raided Café King, a Croatian bar in Berlin-Charlottenburg frequented by referees and players affiliated to Hertha Berlin. The operation yielded betting receipts showing winnings of €2.7 million. The prison terms for those convicted as a result of the scandal were as follows: Hoyzer – 2 years and 5 months, another referee implicated in the operation, Dominik Marks – 1 year and 6 months, and betting ring leader Ante Sapina – 2 years and 11 months.
7. Hansie Cronje / Cricket / Alleged Bribe Amount: $135,000
Hansie Cronje was a South African cricketer and captain of the South African national cricket team in the 1990s. He was so highly esteemed that in 2004, despite having been banned for life from professional cricket for his role in a match-fixing scandal, he was still voted the 11th greatest South African cricketer.
The game-fixing charge came in April of 2000 when Delhi police charged Cronje with fixing South Africa’s ODIs against India. Attached to the charge sheets were transcripts of an alleged conversation between Hansie and Sanjay Chawla, an Indian businessman suggested to be a bookie. The conversation included the amount to be paid to Cronje and his teammates, Herschelle Gibbs, Pieter Strydom, and Nicky Boje.
At first, Cronje denied the charges, but just a few days later, he admitted to having received money to provide information and forecast on matches, but not match-fixing. However, in June Gibbs confessed to accepting an offer from his former captain to make less than twenty runs in a one-day match in India earlier in the year. In the end, Cronje was banned from all of the UCBSA’s and its affiliates’ cricket activities.
On June 1, 2002, Hansie Cronje was killed when the light cargo plane he was traveling in crashed. Six years later, it was decided that he would not be posthumously inducted into South Africa’s Sports Hall of Fame.
6. Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amir / Cricket / Alleged Bribe Amount: $150,000
In August of 2010, Indian news outfit “News of the World” posted a video of a sports agent, Mazhar Majeed, counting out bribe money and predicting that cricketer Mohammad Amir would be bowling the third over in the fourth test at Lords, and that the first ball of the over would be a no-ball delivery. True to the prediction, Amir did bowl the third over, and his first delivery from the over was indeed a no-ball delivery. Furthermore, Majeed also predicted that the sixth delivery of the tenth would be a n0-ball, and once again, he was right. Two other players, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, were also named in the investigation, but all three maintained their innocence. An ICC tribunal, however, banned all three players. The three, along with bookie Majeed, also underwent a criminal investigation and were found guilty of conspiracy to manipulate game results for gambling purposes and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments.
5. Stephen Lee / Snooker / Alleged Bribe Amount: $170,000
Professional snooker player Stephen Lee is regarded by many pundits as the one with the most natural talent. In fact, throughout his career, he won four ranking titles and more than $3.3 million in prize money. However, those winnings didn’t seem to be sufficient for Lee. In October of 2012, he was handed a twelve-year ban from the World Snooker Association on match-fixing charges. Eleven months later, he was found guilty of influencing the outcome of seven matches in 2008 and 2009, which resulted in Stephen being banned from all professional competition.
In October of 2013, Lee announced that he was appealing his sentence. Today, the former millionaire finds himself with more than £70,000 (around $117,000) in unsettled county court judgements against him.
4. Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi and Baconin Borzacchini / Tripoli Grand Prix / Alleged Game-Fixing Amount: $250,000
The Tripoli Grand Prix was a motor racing event in Italy that lasted from 1925 until 1940. One quirk of the race was that it was held in conjunction with the Libyan state lottery. Thirty attendance tickets were drawn at random eight days before the event and assigned to a corresponding race entry. The holder of the winning ticket would then receive three million lire, second place two million, and third one million.
In 1985, Alfred Neubauer published “Speed Was My Life”, which alleged that racers Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi and Baconin Borzacchini, along with their respective ticket holders, conspired to decide the outcome of the 1933 race in order to split some seven and a half million lire together. Everyone implicated denied the allegations, but many circles still believe that the results of the race were rigged.
3. Indian Premier League / Cricket / Alleged Bribe Amount: $540,000
The Indian Premier League was rocked by game-fixing scandals in 2012 and 2013, with cases involving the two incidents still ongoing. In 2012, an Indian news channel, India TV, aired a sting operation involving five cricketers: TP Sudhindra, Mohnish Mishra, Amit Yadav, Shalabh Srivastava, and Abhinav Bali. The operation involved reporters posing as representatives of various teams, and the conversation being recorded. The tape seemed to insinuate that the players were involved in spot fixing, an illegal activity where a specific part of a game is fixed for gambling-related purposes.
The incident was followed by three cricketers for the Rajasthan Royals — Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila, and Ankeet Chavan — being booked on charges of spot fixing and betting in the 2013 Indian Premier League. The three players were arrested after Sreesanth and Chavan confessed that Chandila had tried to involve the players in spot fixing under the direction of bookies. All in all, seventeen other people, including fourteen alleged bookies, were arrested by Delhi Police, who claimed that they had been taping related phone calls since April of 2013.
2. 8 Chicago White Sox Players / Baseball / Alleged Bribe Amount: $545,000
During the MLB’s 1919 World Series, the Chicago White Sox lost the series to the Cincinnati Reds after several players conspired to throw the game. The group was led by first baseman Arnold “Chick” Gandil, who persuaded a professional gambler friend to arrange the deal. Gandil then enlisted several of his teammates, including starting pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams, outfielder Oscar “Happy” Felsch, and shortstop Charles “Swede” Risberg. Third baseman George “Buck” Weaver attended a meeting of the group but decided not to participate. Then there was infielder Fred McMullin, who hardly played in the series, but when he heard of the fix, threatened to report the others unless he was in on the payout.
Rumors about the series being fixed spread among gamblers, and as a result, a sudden influx in money being bet on Cincinnati caused the odds against them to fall rapidly. The strange betting pattern caused a grand jury to be convened to investigate the matter, which led to Eddie Cicotte and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson confessing their participation in the scheme. All in all, eight players and five gamblers were implicated. The players were acquitted of the charges, but all of them were banned from major and minor league baseball. Also banned was Weaver for knowing about the fix but not reporting it.
1. European Football / Alleged Bribe Amount: $2.6 Million
Recent reports have revealed that match-fixing in Europe has reached epidemic proportions after growing into a £306-billion industry involving the fixing of 380 European football matches. In December, Italian World Cup winner Gennaro Gattuso became the highest-profile name to be investigated, while a newspaper sting in England has revealed that former Portsmouth and Charlton defender Sam Sodje accepted £70,000 to receive a red card. Sodje, along with Premier League star DJ Campbell, Oldham striker Christian Montano, Tranmere defender Ian Goodison, and Sodje’s brother, Akpo, are so far the six English players who have been arrested for match-fixing. German football has also been blemished by match-fixing, criminals wagering £13.8 million on rigged matches and raking in £6.9 million in profits.
All in all, it’s believed that £1.73 million in bribes have been paid to corrupt football players and officials across Europe.