Referee Conspiracies

Written by Lauren Oliveri

Edited by Raya Islam March 2015



FIFA’s Response to Match Fixing

Avid soccer fans are often quick to accuse a referee of match fixing the moment a ‘bad’ call is made. While most of this vehement is due to the nature of soccer fans, match fixing is quite rampant in FIFA.

In an interview with the BBC, well-known English FIFA referee and World Cup ref-ing veteran, Howard Webb, believes that “referees always [need] to be vigilant but… in 20 years of refereeing, he had never witnessed anything suspicious. He said no special directive had been issued to referees here either” [1].

In 2008, Canadian sociologist Declan Hill published his book, The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime, exposing the upsetting and rampant match fixing from Asian fixers and gamblers in football, and even the 2006 World Cup. Hill met with these fixers personally, even going under cover, and experienced firsthand how they play their cards. In his book, Hill explains how fixes are either made by clubs or through gambling schemes. Clubs even go to the lengths of offering high-end prostitutes to referees in exchange for match fixing [12].



Declan Hill’s book reveals the extent of match fixing in football


In response to match fixing accusations, FIFA has implemented intense security measures. For the 2010 World Cup, security guards were set up outside of referees’ hotels, and no direct outside calls were allowed to their rooms [1]. Because referees are under such intense scrutiny during both the FIFA referee selection process and during the tournament, corrupt officials are harder to find and convict during the World Cup. Referees’ performances are closely monitored. If anyone proves to be particularly error-prone, they are removed from the tournament.

In preparation for South Africa, FIFA implemented a confidential hotline, which served as a way for players, coaches, and referees to report any suspicious activities in complete confidence [2]. The overall effectiveness of the hotline has either not been assessed or released by FIFA, but appears to be a fixture on the FIFA website as the 2014 World Cup approaches [3].

However, as Hill explains in his book, a great deal of  match fixers target players on teams predicted to lose, as the loss is less noticeable. By targeting weaker teams, fixers can offer players more money in fixing than in their actual playing career [12]. During the 2006 World Cup, Hill explains that Ghanaian players were targeted and bribed with $30,000 for a loss against Brazil by at least two. They lost 0-3 to Brazil in the second round of the tournament.

 A few days earlier I had read in the newspaper that Ghana’s team would receive $20,000 for each victory at the Word Cup. I asked Chin whether that wouldn’t be more important to Ghana’s players. He replied: “But a victory is not 100 percent certain. And each player is guaranteed to receive $30,000 from me. Get it?”

-Declan Hill, Interview with Spiegel [4]

Regardless of who is ultimately responsible for the majority of match fixing in the World Cup, it is easiest for referees to alter game outcomes by choosing their calls wisely. Hill claims that match fixing is so effective because “there is a psychological refusal to admit this is going wrong [12].” Two professional FIFA referees within the last ten years have been exposed, and their stories illustrate the effects of match fixing in FIFA.


Referees involved in Corruption


Byron Moreno




The Scandal:

During the first knockout round of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan, Ecuadorian referee, Byron Moreno was officiating a game between Italy and Korea. Moreno exhibited a show of purely awful refereeing. His errors were so obviously directed towards Italy, that many claimed it was all a conspiracy to push the host country further.

Moreno awarded an early questionable penalty to South Korea early in the game, disallowed a perfectly legitimate goal by Damiano Tommasi, and controversially ejected Italy’s star player, Francesco Totti for allegedly diving. The game ended in a 2-1 South Korean victory in overtime [5].



In the eyes of the public, a possible conspiracy seemed more plausible when South Korea beat Spain to move on to the semi-finals. Egyptian referee, Gamal Ghandour disallowed two perfectly legal Spanish goals. After being accused of accepting a Hyundai car as a “gift” from the Korean Football Association, Ghandour swiftly retired [5].


FIFA never investigated Italy’s conspiracy claims against Moreno, nor publicly acknowledged any wrongdoing. Though Sepp Blatter did call his refereeing a “disaster,” and never officiated another major soccer contest since 2002.

When he returned to officiating in Ecuador later that year, Moreno was quickly bestowed with a 20-match ban after allowing play during 13 extra minutes of stoppage time in an Ecuadorian league match between Deportiva Universita de Quito and Barcelona Sporting Club. He was then suspended again in May of 2013 when he controversially ejected three players in one match. Moreno retired from refereeing the following month [6].

Moreno reappeared in the news in 2010, when he was caught with six kilograms of heroin concealed in and around his underwear at the John F. Kennedy airport in New York [7]. Let’s just say Italy was less than sympathetic.

When sports people get involved in drug cases, it means they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.

-Gianluigi Buffon, 2002 Azzzurri Goal Keeper [7]


Lu Jun



The Golden Whistle:

Once dubbed, the “Golden Whistle,” Lu Jun was considered one of the best referees in Asia. Jun was the first Chinese referee to take charge of a World Cup game in 2002, and earned the “Referee of the Year” award twice from the Chinese Football Association (CFA). In his career, Jun had refereed over 200 professional matches [8].

The Black Whistle:

In 2009, China began investigating the rampant match fixing and gambling within the CFA. Extensive corruption has seriously plagued China’s struggling football league. Nearly 60 Chinese football officials, referees, and players were investigated, Lu Jun being one of them. Jun’s case received the most international attention, being a former World Cup FIFA referee and beloved official [9].



In 2011, the Intermediate People’s Court in Dangdon sentenced Jun for five and a half years for accepting over $128,000 in bribes and fixing the results of seven league games [8].

Before a match between Shanghai International and Shanghai Shenhua on November 9th, 2003. Zang Jianqiang, a former official of the CFA approached Jun, offering that if he favored Shanghai Shenhua, he would reward Jun and the other referees. Shanghai Shenhua won, and ended up winning that year’s domestic league championship. The Shanghai club had spent nearly 1 million dollars bribing officials and referees [10].

FIFA Disciplinary Committee instituted a ban on match-fixers, including Lu Jun and the 57 other Chinese soccer officials and players involved in CFA’s match fixing scandals [11].


Back to World Cup Referee Blunders page



[1] Bond, David. Fifa sends out mixed messages on corruption. BBC, 2010.

[2] Homewood, Brian. FIFA launches hotline for reporting corruption, match-fixing. Reuters, 2013.

[3] FIFA to open whistleblowers’ hotline next month. RJR News, 2012.

[4] Interview with Match-Fixing Investigator Declan Hill: ‘I Am Sure the Game Was Manipulated. Spiegel, 2008.

[5] Bennet, Roger. At the World Cup, controversy reigns. ESPN Soccer Net, 2010.

[6] D’Andrea, Rick. Infamous South Korea-Italy World Cup 2002 Referee Byron Moreno Arrested For Heroin Possession – Report. Goal, 2010.

[7] McShane, Larry. Soccer referee Byron Moreno’s sad score: From World Cup to suspected drug mule. Daily News, 2010.

[8] Bristow, Michael. Top China football referee Lu Jun jailed over bribes. BBC, 2012.

[9] Corruption in China: Former World Cup referee jailed for match-fixing. Reuters, First Post, 2012.

[10] Details of soccer referee Lu Jun’s corruption case revealed. Xinhau Net, 2011.

[11] World Football – FIFA extends China match-fixing bans worldwide. Reuters, Yahoo Eurosport, 2013.

[12] Q and A on Match Fixing with Declan Hill, Author of ‘The Fix.’ New York Times, 2009.

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