SALT LAKE CITY – A man who allegedly offered two Belize players large sums of money to fix a CONCACAF Gold Cup match against the United States has been identified by soccer officials, and he’s believed to have tried to fix matches in other countries.
In a statement Thursday, CONCACAF said it and FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, are investigating the bribery allegations made by Ian Gaynair and Woodrow West. The two players said they rejected the offer, made Sunday, and immediately reported it. When a CONCACAF representative showed them a photo of a man being monitored for trying to fix matches in other countries, the Belize players confirmed it was the same man who had approached them.
“So this isn’t just about our country or a one-time thing,” coach Ian Mork said after the team’s practice. “This is something much bigger.”
Belize lost to the United States 6-1 on Tuesday night in the Jaguars’ first Gold Cup appearance. Belize faces Costa Rica here on Saturday night, and finishes Group C play on Tuesday with a game against Cuba in East Hartford, Conn.
CONCACAF, which is the federation of North and Central American and Caribbean nations, said it could not comment further on the ongoing investigation. But Mork said he doesn’t believe the players were asked to fix any other games beside Tuesday’s match against the U.S.
Match fixing is a global problem in soccer, with FIFA estimating that fixers make more than $5 billion in profits each year from manipulating matches across all sports. Stopping it is a priority, and CONCACAF said in its statement that, together with FIFA and Interpol, it had three seminars with its member associations in recent months focusing on “educating, identifying and preventing match manipulation.”
But the Gold Cup can be a particularly attractive target because of the disparity in the level of competition. Lopsided scores are not out of the norm when World Cup regulars such as Mexico and the United States play small nations like Belize, and semi-professional players are seen as being more vulnerable to bribes.
FIFA investigated reports of fixed matches at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, with Sports Illustrated reporting the questionable games involved Cuba, Grenada and El Salvador.
Only two of the 23 players on Belize’s roster play soccer professionally: Goalie Shane Orio and defender Elroy Smith play in Honduras. The rest have regular jobs and play in the semi-pro league in Belize in their free time.
“We’re just trying our best to compete at this level,” said Mork, an American. “I could see how they would be targets, I guess, but our minds don’t really go there. It was a big shock.”