Soccer Match Fixing Has Infiltrated Canada

A blatantly tossed game between Niagara and Waterloo earlier this year highlights what's alleged to be rampant match fixing in the Canadian Soccer League.

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Dec 29 2015, 8:13pm

Photo via Flickr user Joe deSousa

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.

Soccer match fixing has arrived on Canadian shores.

Well, technically, it landed here in 2009 when an organized crime group began to make inroads. It was probably even making weekend trips here before that, but the cruise-ship-sized problem really ran aground in Canada over the past few years.

The Canadian Soccer League (CSL), a little out-of-the-way semi-professional outfit that operates out of Ontario, made headlines across the globe recently when the International Centre of Sport Security leaked a copy of their report to the United Kingdom's Telegraph. The 31-page document includes allegations that 42 percent of this year's CSL games showed signs of suspicious betting activity and that all of the league's 12 teams participated in at least three potentially fixed games in 2015. That might be shocking numbers for those who have never even heard of the CSL, but for those who have been playing and coaching in the league for years, this latest revelation comes as no surprise.

READ MORE: How to Catch a Match Fixer

For the first time, Canadian Soccer League players, as well as a long-time CSL coach—all from Niagara United—have agreed to speak on the record about what they've seen and heard, specifically from an October game, which the club was so convinced was being fixed by its opponents, that it invited the other team to score. And when the United's opponent, SC Waterloo, wouldn't, Niagara did the unfathomable and tried to score on its own goal to disrupt the allegedly fixed result. Niagara's attempts, however, were thwarted by Waterloo.

The Game

Derek Paterson, a centre forward for Niagara Falls, was suspicious of what might occur heading into the Oct. 4 match against SC Waterloo.

"Honestly, I suspected that something could happen because Waterloo was locked into that fourth position and we're obviously not going to make the playoffs," Paterson said. "And the betting line on a tie for that game was a 10-1."

John Bahdi, a midfielder and six-year veteran of Niagara, shared those suspicions from the opening whistle on that Sunday night.

"We took the field and the game began and from the first minute I could kind of get a sense that they weren't pushing forward," Bahdi said. "As dangerous as that team is, they should have been pushing forward against us. We had a very young lineup."

In the 12th minute, Niagara appeared to score the game's opening goal but it would be waved off by the linesman. On the ensuing play, Waterloo marched back down the field and potted one. Soon after voicing their displeasure for a perceived non-call, Bahdi and Paterson were quickly shown red cards for their objections. Reduced to nine men, Niagara expected it would have to bunker the rest of the game, but the opposite occurred.

"So the game proceeds and we get up the field with nine guys and they literally let us walk in on goal," Bahdi recalled. "It was really obvious that they weren't really trying to stop us at that point in time."

Paterson saw the play similarly.

"It was almost like they just backed off, they backed up into their own goal and let us take a shot on net," Paterson said. "And all of a sudden, we're like, 'Holy fuck, are these guys playing for a halftime tie? Or are they playing some kind of prop bet?' We didn't really know what to expect."

After the tying goal, Waterloo once again stopped going forward. One Waterloo player even started dribbling backward on a three-on-one rush, according to Bahdi.

"So at that point I told my coach James (McGillivray), 'They must have the first-half draw' and he's like 'OK, what we'll do is we'll give them a penalty shot at the 44th minute and see what happens.'"

Before that could happen, though, Waterloo—which was unimpeded from nearly half—walked in on net and went ahead, 2-1.

"When they scored, we thought, 'Oh, OK, well maybe they didn't want to tie' or maybe they're going to win, anyway," a player who asked not to be identified said. "So we basically said, 'Just put eight guys behind the ball, we'll probably get pummeled this half.' But it was the exact same thing, they'd just let us go forward."

Bahdi felt the same and was shocked when Niagara received a free kick on the edge of the 18-yard box after a crunching tackle from a Waterloo player.

"Both guys get a yellow and our guy is losing his mind because he knows, like the rest of our team knew, that these guys were basically fixing the game," Bahdi said. "He started swearing his head off and he got sent off so now it's 8 versus 11 and our free kick."

The ensuing free kick wasn't the, ahem, best, according to Bahdi.

"Our free-kick taker literally just chipped the wall and their goalie dove about six seconds late to this ball when he could have walked from where he was positioned to where the ball went in," Bahdi said.

Paterson said the ball was clearly missed on purpose. In a game that was getting exceedingly strange, it was at this point where the wheels really fell off.

It's now 2-2, with Niagara playing three-men down in the second half and Waterloo showing no intention of trying to score a go-ahead goal. In fact, Waterloo was actively trying to prevent any kind of goals, according to Niagara.

"At one point they [Waterloo] got a breakaway and rounded our keeper and instead of scoring, shot it out of bounds. It was pathetic, like embarrassing," Paterson said. "After that happened we had a goal kick and we tried to play it in our own net. We tried to play it in our own net just to make sure they weren't going to win their money."

The player blocked the shot and the ball went for a goal kick, according to Bahdi. Undeterred, Niagara again proceeded to try to score on its own net.

"Ruin the fix, that's exactly what we were trying to do at that point because that's what they are after. And we don't want to give them their money, forget it," Bahdi said.

"So they block the shot, the ball goes out for a goal kick, our keeper quickly plays it to our right back and basically tells him, 'Put it in our net, shoot on our net, put it in our own net,'" Bahdi said. "Our right back goes to put it in our own net, by the time he got to shoot it, they had three guys on our goal line and the ball gets kicked off our goal line."

As soon as that happened the game was over. The referee called the match abandoned at the 65th minute.

Postgame

With the game over, albeit with 25 minutes still to play, McGillivray approached the match official to tear a strip off him for what he'd seen that day.

"I said 'I hope you put in your report what you saw here tonight,'" MacGillivray said. "But his whole report was just basically about who got sent off and all he said in his last paragraph in his report was the home team had an opportunity to score and didn't put it in the net.

"His report is not even right."

For McGillvray, who has been involved in the CSL for nearly a decade, it's disappointing to see the league descend into such ill repute.

"It was once a breeding ground to bring young players into, but it's just gone so far downhill," he said.

The CSL called a hearing to review the game. Niagara presented its take on what happened, as did Waterloo. Since that game took place, the CSL season has now finished and the playoffs are complete. SC Waterloo hosted the playoff final and lost.

The CSL has yet to release an official decision on the outcome of that Oct. 4 game or announce any disciplinary action that has been taken. Regardless of any decision, McGillivary and his United team are walking away from the league for good.

"I told the CSL board that my affiliation with the CSL was done and I would never ask another young kid to go play in the CSL," he said.

Paterson desperately wants action to be taken from a league that's consistently avoided the issue.

"It's disgusting. It ruins the integrity of the game," Paterson said. "This can't get swept under the rug forever."

***

With all the attention the past few years that the league has garnered for alleged match fixing—with reports from Interpol, the ICSS and match fixing experts testifying to the extent of the problem—it's hard to understand why no action has been taken by law enforcement here in Canada.

Declan Hill, author of The Fix, and the preeminent expert on match fixing, has one idea on why nothing has occurred.

"I think they're a bunch of gutless wimps. And I'll repeat that again on the record—I think Canadian law enforcement are a bunch of gutless wimps for not wanting to take on this organized crime group, who continue to operate untouched in Canada," Hill said.

The organized crime group has been operating in Ontario since 2009 but there has yet to be a single arrest. According to an Ontario Provincial Police source, part of the problem with a lack of prosecution is due to loopholes in the Canadian legal system. Another part is a matter of jurisdiction. The final part is a lack of political pressure.

According to the source, the fixers, who are based in Germany, are betting on games in Canada, on legal and illegal betting markets in China. As a result, it's a jurisdictional quagmire for law enforcement.

The second part of the problem is a lack of understanding and knowledge of how to prosecute such crimes in the Canadian legal system. It was suggested by the source that Canada is simply not set-up to deal with these kinds of things. The closest approximation for something to do with match fixing would be fraud. For fraud, there needs to be a victim in Canada. A victim has be defrauded of money, ideally, for it to be a compelling argument.

There is a case to be made that the livelihoods of teams, coaches and players who are on the other side of these fixes should be subject to damages. Their reputations and livelihoods are no doubt being affected. But, and this is the final part of this issue, because there is no political pressure to confront a problem that is affecting a small, Canadian soccer league, these organized crime groups will likely be allowed to continue operating.

"The RCMP needs to stop blaming jurisdiction. The OPP needs to stop blaming jurisdiction. The Toronto Police need to stop blaming jurisdiction and get down to doing something," Hill said. "The laws are broad enough in this country that if they wanted to do something about stopping match fixing and the organized crime groups that carry it out, they could," Hill said.

The OPP source confirmed there is an open file on match fixing in Ontario, but would not confirm if there was an active investigation.

Unless something is done to address this problem, and soon, that luxury liner that ran aground a number of years ago is going to continue to open the doors for a steady stream of rats to offload. Carrying with them the match fixing virus, they will certainly look for new grounds to overrun.