As sports fans, we should all thank Director Benjamin Best for his investigative journalism. We like to think that the games on which we spend so much time, money, and emotion, are equally true to us, the fans and supporters.
Dirty Games: The Dark Side of Sports instead reveals multiple ways, used by the promoters and protectors of the game, to deceive and take advantage of fans and people across soccer, boxing, and basketball. Match-fixing and payoffs are primary culprits, but there are also abuses of human rights.
The back door bid to host the 2022 World Cup
In soccer, Best shows how Nepali workers are being exploited in Qatar, virtually enslaved to power the construction necessary to put on the 2022 World Cup. To see a summary of the Qatari situation, read my companion post on The Slavery Side of World Cup Soccer.
The film also covers Australia’s failed bid for WC 2022. Bonita Mersiades, former head of corporate and public affairs for Football Federation Australia, was told that their bid book, technical inspection, and final presentation were important but did not really count. FIFA’s Executive Committee would not even bother reading the bid book because the decision would be based on the back door bid, i.e., what sorts of favors were demanded by the Executive Committee members. $19M of Australia’s bid was for the back door channels. Mersiades went on to start New FIFA Now.
Turkish match fixing
In Turkey in 2011, match-fixing allowed Fenerbahce Istanbul to win the league by manipulating matches. Owner Aziz Yildirim, a friend of Erdogan, was sentenced for match-fixing, but the Turkish Football Federation did not force the club to give up the championship. UEFA however, banned them from participating in the Champions League.
Brazil – suspending democracy for big business
For WC 2014 and the 2016 Olympics, the Brazilian government evicted neighborhoods for parking lots that were never built. The interview of a local professor is a fascinating discussion of a “regime of exception”, where democratic laws are suspended so that an event can be realized. The suspension is justified by the event. But the net effect of all the stadium construction is to price Brazilian people out of the market for tickets to their own Brazilian leagues. As a result, communities and family traditions are lost.
Boxing and NBA refereeing points of emphasis
The coverage of corruption in NBA refereeing and American boxing is equally fascinating. The situations have parallels with soccer.
Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was convicted for a gambling scandal in 2007. He has been telling his story for years, but this was the first I had watched him. He is adamant that going into the NBA playoffs, the league dictated “points of emphasis” to referees to ensure the games were called so that the big market teams, with the big stars, were more likely to win. So a foul on Kobe Bryant would be called more often, but if Kobe committed the same foul on someone else, it was not to be called. While we often suspect such things happen, Donaghy’s straightforwardness about match-fixing left me dumbfounded.
In a separate barrage of honesty, former boxing manager Charles Farrell talked quite plainly about having fixed hundreds of fights. Promoters make more money losing a fight than winning it. The Mike Tyson vs Peter McNeeley fight gave Farrell enough cash to put his son through college. The code language for setting up a fixed fight is well described in a deadspin article.
Go small with FC United of Manchester
Watching all this corruption and cheating gets a bit depressing, so perhaps to end on a lighter note, Best concludes with a segment on FC United of Manchester. After American Malcolm Glazer took over ManU in 2005, long-time fans were priced out of the stadium. They then formed their own semi-professional club, which is fan-owned and run democratically. I was unaware of this cool group of supporters, and it was only after watching Dirty Games that I understood one of the scenes in Looking for Eric. Because of price increases, a group of postmen are relegated to watching ManU games in the pub, but they still mock their mate who has become an FC United supporter.
9 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 9