Match-Fixing: The Travails of Samson Siasia

The Federation of International Football Association (FIFA), which had hitherto banned for life Nigeria’s former Super Eagles gaffer, Samson Siasia, from the game for match-fixing allegations, recently announced that the sanction has been reduced to five years. The sanction was reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). FIFA had said in 2019 that Siasia was “guilty of having accepted that he would receive bribes in relation to the manipulation of matches in violation of the FIFA Code of Ethics”. He was not only given a life ban from anything related to football, but he was also fined 50,000 Swiss Francs ($54, 000).

However, CAS said the imposition of a life ban was “disproportionate for a first offence which was committed passively and which had not had an adverse or immediate effect on football stakeholders”, while the fine was also set aside fully.

Nigerians, and indeed the football community, received the news on the reduction of sanctions for Samson Siasia with mixed feelings. While the reduction of the sanction was a welcome development across several quarters, those who witnessed Siasia’s illustrious career as a player and coach of the national soccer team had hoped that the ban would be totally withdrawn.

For those unfamiliar with the court case, the former U-23 Nigerian National team head coach, Samson Siasia, had been handed a life ban for conspiring with Mr. Wilson Raj Perumal, a Singaporean match-fixer, to manipulate the outcome of matches. Mr Siasia had, through emails exchanged, agreed to accept and ignore match manipulation carried out under the instructions of Perumal, provided he is appointed as coach of an Australian club. This offence violates Article 11 of the FIFA Code of Ethics 2009.

Although ’match fixing’ as a term can be applied more generally, it does carry strong connotations of this kind of offence. More importantly, financial incentives have accounted for one of the most prominent reasons behind match manipulation in football. A proven and well-documented history exists of players aligning their performances with lucrative outcomes.

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Simply put, footballers connive with money ‘ballers’ to adjust their displays on the football pitch to suit the prediction and outcome of a bet. The meteoric and astronomic rise of betting companies in Nigeria and other parts of the world where the round leather game has become a religion has also widened the suspicion that feeds directly on the reality of match-fixing in sports.

Football has a chequered past of deliberate underperformances, and the environments in which such things have occurred potentially give rise to the prospect of the same thing happening again. Although the World Footballing body claims that they are on top of match-fixing issues, straightforward gambling-influenced manipulations have also taken place in form of “spot-fixing”, where players deliberately manipulate minor, isolated action within a football match to secure the success of a bet. A good case in point happened in 1995. In what could be described as a ridiculous show of and contempt for the integrity of the game of football, not mentioning the clear act of toiling with the emotional cum financial attachment fans invest in the round leather game, Southampton midfielder, Matt Le Tissier purposely kicked the ball out of play in the early exchanges of a match against Wimbledon after betting money on the first throw-in to be within a minute of the game starting.

In more recent times, we have also witnessed blatant incidents where illegal gambling in football transcends matters on the pitch. Athletico Madrid’s Kieran Trippier was banned for allegedly feeding information to friends on his transfer from Tottenham in 2019 that was later used to place transfer bets. Similarly, Olympique de Marseille jeopardised a glorious league and European double in their 1992/93 season with a despicable bribery attempt in their last domestic match of the campaign. Needing just a win to pick the Ligue 1 title, midfielder Jean-Jacques Eydelie offered money to some players of the opposition side, Valenciennes, to take their feet off the gas and underperform, in order for Marseille to stroll to a routine win and not over-exert themselves ahead of their Champions League Final against Milan.

In Nigeria’s football professional league, reality has also caught up with the hypes. The players, clubs, and match officials involved in the scandalous 146 goals in two football games in Bauchi have since met their waterloo. While the jury is still out to adjudicate appropriately if Samson Siasia is truly complicit, either actively or passively, of the allegation of match-fixing, it is pertinent to address the elephant in the room.

For the sake of other sports personalities or players, we need to understand some life lessons Samson Siasia’s match-fixing case has taught us. The sports betting scandal of Samson Siasia, and by extension, others, reminds one of a quote that says: ‘’He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.”

Apparently, the collateral damage which Samson Siasia’s image will continue to suffer is colossal. Even if he is eventually absolved of any guilt and declared innocent, people will not stop looking at him from the parochial prism of bloated self-aggrandisement. In this part of the world, the internet hardly forgets. More often than not, the associative memory of people will always tick all the wrong boxes, except his eventual innocent status.

In this regard still, brands and marketing experts always bandy a catchphrase that makes for good reading with regard to Samson’s Siasia debacle. In that impressionistic circle, it is declared that “perception is reality”. Our sportsmen and women alike must begin to understand that when issues like match-fixing scandal erupt, as it is the case with Samson Siasia, the narrative usually stays in the mind of people. More often than not, a counter-narrative or PR-move doesn’t usually cleanse the embattled Sportsperson. The stain sticks with them like chameleon faces. A popular local proverb holds through in this regard and it is also reinforced in the Holy Book. “A good name is better than silver and gold”.
Sports personalities should not allow their greed and inordinate ambition to becloud their sense of reasoning when being financially induced or promised huge sums to engage in fraudulent activities like match-fixing. The consequences are far-reaching and monumentally damaging

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