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Eric Ehrmann

Eric Ehrmann

Posted: March 10, 2011 01:56 PM

Fixed Soccer Matches Create Post Carnival Headache for Brazil


With Brazilians recovering from carnival hangovers, the sports world is feeling the lingering effects of a game fixing case local media are calling the Whistle Mafia. A São Paulo court has fined the Brazilian Football Confederation 160 million Reals ($100 million) in connection with a conspiracy among referees and Internet gamblers. FIFA, the international governing body of football (soccer), has pledged to clean up game fixing and its connection to online gambling and is looking into new allegations involving European referees sent to officiate matches in South America.

The Whistle Mafia rigged the results of 11 games in the Campeonato Brasiliero in 2005. The Mafia do Apito is the first high profile case involving game fixing and internet gambling to get major media attention, making headlines as far away from Brazil as Pravda.

A Brazilian government Sports Tribunal ordered the fixed games replayed and the championship awarded to São Paulo side Corinthinans, instead of the original winners, Internacional of Porto Alegre. Ironically, Corinthians is the favorite team of former president Lula.

Online media and sports bloggers report that Edilson Pereira de Carvalho, a Brazilian referee who called FIFA World Cup matches, recruited a network of colleagues to fix games at the behest of Naguib Fayad, a São Paulo businessman. Referees took 10,000 reals ($8,000) per match to manipulate games to favor Internet gambling insiders. The São Paulo court issued additional fines on Edilson, who had already been banned from football, and Naguib, for causing moral damage to consumers. All charged can appeal the decisions of the court under Brazilian law.

Bringing the Whistle Mafia to justice has been an uphill battle, the culmination of a joint effort by prosecutors dedicated to rooting out organized crime, and the Federal Police.

Lawyers for the CBF have used social media as a vehicle to criticize the court decision, calling it banal, arguing that everyone has forgotten the scandal. But presidents of key first division teams including Flamengo, Corinthians, Botafogo and Fluminese, and bloggers, are calling for big changes in the way the business of futebol, particularly the distribution of revenues from TV rights, endorsements and merchandise, is conducted.

Investigative reporting by the popular weekly Veja broke the Whistle Mafia story in 2005. But the above the law status Brazilian society affords its national pastime provided an ideal environment for the accused to slow down the process of justice. Charges were toned down, jail sentences were eliminated. One reason the court has cited the CBF for acting in bad faith.

The CBF is part of FIFA, which is headquartered in Switzerland and boasts more member states than the United Nations. FIFA has the power to override the decisions of democratically elected leaders as it did recently in Nigeria, when a FIFA executive caused president Goodluck Jonathan to change a decision about reorganizing his nation's football culture in the wake of a major corruption scandal.

Growing into world prominence under the stewardship of Brazilian Joao Havelange, FIFA, is currently run by Sepp Blatter of Germany. With more than 200 national federations operating under the aegis of FIFA, football (soccer) has become the civic religion of the world economic order. As the economic crisis and currency wars continue, globalist companies spend billions each year on role model marketing which pays FIFA stars and teams to promote products and services and even software. The 2014 World Cup is expected to bring $100 billion to the economy of Brazil. And Blatter seeks to have a hand in directing how some of those funds are channeled, particularly in the area of construction and remodeling of football stadiums in Brazil. President Dilma has indicated she wants the opening game to be played at a stadium in São Paulo

But in Brazil and other emerging economies sports marketing driven by FIFA football is all for the game and offers little giveback to the huge fan base that live on the bubble of poverty and do whatever it takes to get their hands on products endorsed by their favorite star or team. With street crime and stadium violence on the rise everywhere in Brazil the government is increasing law enforcement budgets, but that doesn't help the marginalized in Bahia or the areas of São Paulo that president Dilma calls crackolandia to get jobs.

Among major global sports, National Basketball Association (NBA) programs that reach out to street kids and promote education and values have gained some world traction. In Brazil about all the first division players do is photo ops, walking onto the playing field at game time holding the hands of young children in front of a camera. Brazil could borrow a page from the NBA playbook to get big name stars into the mix. But Ricardo Teixiera, leader of the CBF since 1989 and head of the Brazil 2014 World Cup organizing committee, has never been publicly open to mixing futebol with social inclusion. He is the son-in-law of FIFA honorary president Joao Havelange. And Havelange is backing Texiera to be the next FIFA president after Blatter retires.

The CBF and FIFA wield considerable access and influence and a strong PR machine to protect role model marketing and control the damage from the Whistle Mafia and other scandals. With online media throwing more sunshine on the workings of football and other big time sports, it's not a question of if the next whistle blows, but when.