PFAI general secretary Stephen McGuinness says he has never encountered match-fixing in the domestic game, and was livid when an alleged fixer was quoted in an undercover media sting operation in England last week claiming he could “do” games in Ireland.
“I was fuming, absolutely fuming because I just thought, ‘here we go, they are going to nail our league here’, list the league with no evidence,” said McGuinness. “Some bloke in England sits in a room and says games in Ireland are rigged. That’s disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful.
“I immediately spoke to the FAI that night. They said there was nothing and that all the warning signs come through Interpol and Uefa [about] any sort of betting or if there are certain bets on a certain area. There are warning signs that exist but there were no signs. Yet, here we go with a fella in a room in England saying that games in Ireland are fixed. Scandalous.”
McGuinness pointed out that in the case of Colm James — the Longford Town player who was banned this summer for betting-related offences — the whistle on any attempted match-fixing had immediately been blown by a team-mate. But while the union boss felt this indicated the game here was small enough to police itself, he also stressed there can be no grounds for complacency.
“We think the league is very vulnerable,” he conceded, “because of the wages that are paid being quite low, the timing of the season — where there’s not a lot of games on in the summer when our games are on — and the First Division not having any live TV games, so we always feel we’re vulnerable to these gangs getting involved.”
McGuinness also highlighted a link between players with gambling problems and attempted match-rigging.
“We’re involved in this ‘Don’t Fix It’ campaign and when Interpol spoke to us, they told us that they [the fixers] trawl through Facebook and Twitter, find players who like to bet, then look at their background, what team they play for, the time of the year, all of that, pick a match and then go after them. That’s how it’s done. And the money that’s being offered would be the player’s salary for the full year — that’s what was being offered in the case just gone. That was the word.
“Education is the big thing. We’ve got to educate the players, and this year for the first time we’re working with the FAI — now this was ahead of anything that the guy in England said — to have three conferences for every player to attend before the season kicks off in relation to anti-doping and anti-betting, to get the lads fully aware of the pitfalls.”
McGuinness also reported on what he regards as a welcome new financial stability in the domestic game, saying that for the first time in the seven years he has been at the helm of the union, there are no outstanding wages owed to players in the run-up to the new season.