The question of match fixing in African football

In a report by Thomson Reuters, match fixing was dubbed as the biggest threat in the 21st century. However, it could also be our biggest chance to solve something big, together. We cannot let our players lose out on the one thing that should be fulfilling them.
— Simiso Shabangu, FirstTouch Africa

In 2018, the African football arena was shocked by the Ghanaian scandal. In the many publications that we saw, it was not just the glaring financial corruption that disturbed us, but it was also the allegations of match fixing that made us lay back and question the game’s future in Africa. In Zambia, the former international player Nchimunya Mweetwa has started a foundation that educates people about the ills of match fixing. It’s an incredible move, but the problem still needs more hands on deck. How do we then come up with more sustainable solutions to combat this?

The word “fixing” in general has a positive connotation. It looks like it's about making things right and I thought the same would apply in football. In this case, however, match fixing involves manipulating a team’s results by either bribing the players or the referees to ensure that one team advances over the other. It is usually driven by people who have bet on the game and want to ensure that they surely win the bet. The major problem is that match-fixing takes away the fun and growth in the sport as it diverts players’ attention from the main goal. After all the training that a player invests, they have to make sure that they do the exact opposite of what they have been taught. I cannot begin to imagine the harm that this imposes on a person’s conscience. They say all their team chants, smile at their team players and fans but then intentionally do the exact thing that will take away all those smiles and hope. Acknowledging the ills is not enough, how then do we eradicate this?

A Burkina Faso supporter poses ahead of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final football match between Burkina Faso and Tunisia at the Stade de l'Amitie Sino-Gabonaise in Libreville on January 28, 2017. / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS  (Jan. 27, 2017 - Source: AFP)

A Burkina Faso supporter poses ahead of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final football match between Burkina Faso and Tunisia at the Stade de l'Amitie Sino-Gabonaise in Libreville on January 28, 2017. / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS

(Jan. 27, 2017 - Source: AFP)

Success does not exist in a vacuum. It only exists when the environment around it has been cultivated well enough for it to grow. In an interview with BBC, Nchimunya Mweetwa alluded to the fact that some of these match fixing temptations come because players do not have enough money to cater for their everyday needs. Money from a game fixer then becomes an irresistible temptation. Trust me, I am not using poverty as justification for unethical behaviour, but this is surely a sign of the root cause. This means that government departments, coaches and other sports official should then ensure that what players earn from sports is enough to make their ends meet so much that they are not easily lured by unclean money. On another note though, can money ever be enough? Will paying enough really solve the problem? It might not completely eradicate the problem but it is surely a viable place to start.  

There are of course other solutions that can include harsher sentences for offenders with the hope that other people will be deterred. That too can be explored, but the most effective solution is one that does not wait for people to commit the offence before we solve the problem. We should also invest in ethical development and training where we remind our players how the game adds to their comprehensive growth and why they started playing in the first place.

Because match fixing does not just affect the immediate stakeholders, it also trickles down as disappointment to fans, it should be a problem for all of us to fix. In a report by Thomson Reuters, match mixing was dubbed as the biggest threat in the 21st century. However, it could also be our biggest chance to solve something big, together. We cannot let our players lose out on the one thing that should be fulfilling them.