For soccer in Canada, match-fixing continues to be the big, ugly elephant in the room.
Everyone acknowledges the threat is there. They can feel it breathing, sweating and generally stinking up the place, but still, nobody wants to talk about how it got there -- or worse, who has to own up to the mess it's made.
In the meantime, we watch as FIFA bumble and fumble its way through public-relations exercises intended to give the appearance of action
. Or, more locally, we plug our noses as the Canadian Soccer Association tries to spray down
the more grotesque messes. But away from those three-ringed circuses, one small club is doing what they both refuse to -- talk openly about that foul elephant.
FC Edmonton, which plays in the North American Soccer League (NASL), a level below MLS, has decided that it won't be waiting on FIFA, or the CSA, or even its own league, to give some direction.
FC Edmonton's newly hired general manager, Rod Proudfoot, says the team is intent on stopping match-fixing before it starts. And they've taken the extraordinary step of hiring someone who can help do it.
"It's that old story: who is going to be the first that's going to stand up and say, 'Hold it now, we believe this is a problem and we need to face it head on?'" Proudfoot said. "Everybody is afraid that by talking about [match-fixing] that they're going to be tainted by it. But someone has to say it, regardless -- fixing kills soccer."
Last year a CBC report
on match-fixing in Canada led to a massive fallout for the Canadian Soccer League -- one that it is still struggling to deal with.
"That was certainly a factor in us saying we need to be proactive here," Proudfoot said. "If the CSL can be targeted, so can we. That's going to go on, whether we want it to or not, but the thing we can do about it is to provide our players with some level of protection and education."
That meant hiring someone in the team-operations department with a skill set that could see him act in a number of roles -- including that of an integrity officer. The team hired then CSA board member Derryn Donaghey, a former member of the Canadian military police, who has worked as a security manager for major sporting events like the Grey Cup and Heritage Classic and was charged with managing the security detail for the Queen during her royal visit to Alberta.
"We don't want to be the path of least resistance for criminals," Donaghey said.'Once you bite... they have you'
Since his recent hiring, Donaghey has run education sessions for the FC Edmonton players on what they need to look out for and why getting involved with fixers is so dangerous.
"We're here to prevent any one of our players or staff from becoming victims. We're dealing with criminals and we're taking the necessary steps to shield them from that element. It's for their own protection," Donaghey said. "A lot of these guys approach players on a buddy-buddy level and say, 'Oh, it's easy.' Or, 'everybody is doing it.' But once you bite, and they lure you in, you're on the line and they have you. And then they can manipulate you any way they want."
Donaghey and Proudfoot both stress that they've seen no evidence to suggest FC Edmonton or the NASL have been compromised in any way, but given recent developments -- including Interpol and FIFA
stating that global match-fixing is a multi-billion dollar industry -- they see no reason to bury their heads in the sand.
"Frankly, we don't know if it's happening, but obviously that doesn't mean it isn't. FC Edmonton believes in taking a proactive approach to protect our players. Doing so is absolutely crucial to the integrity of our game," Proudfoot said. "And for our players, we've warned them that if someone were to approach them, or there is any reason that you believe that something is going on, you have to report it."
"The penalty if you don't is severe. Your career will be over in soccer. You'll never play again."
Donaghey echoed that statement, but in a different way.
"This is a problem that has been going on for a long time, but really it's a problem that has only come to mainstream attention in the last few years. So now that it's out there -- and to the scope it is -- it's time for us to be aggressive in preventing it," Donaghey said.
That means, in addition to the courses the team has run, FC Edmonton is trying to instill in its players to not be afraid to share what they know.
"With the players that I've spoken to about it, a lot of them have heard of other situations -- of course, players talk to other players -- they've heard of situations in other places, not in the NASL. But it's interesting to hear and learn from them about it and how they're approached," Donaghey said.
That concept of open discussion, apparently, goes double for clubs, leagues and law enforcement.
"This isn't something most are overly versed with [dealing with] in Canada or the U.S.," Donaghey said. "I can guarantee you, though, that there are a lot of players out there that have been affected or approached to some degree about this, and they've never told anybody, partly because no one asked.
"I think what we need to start doing now is sharing information, sharing intelligence. Like any type of police investigation, criminal intelligence is important to share."
And from that vein of thought, FC Edmonton reached out to the NASL and told them what they were doing.
"Bill Peterson, the [NASL] commissioner is aware of it, and expressed his gratitude that we've taken this step," Proudfoot said. "And I know the NASL is working on their own machinations to put something together on match-fixing prevention as well.'
"The CSA, too, is worried about it," Proudfood said.
"But ultimately, if Canadian soccer wants to meet this head on, and we intend to, it's the teams that are the ones who have to take the first step."
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