No doubt you are all – well, my English and Croatian readers at least – dusting off your scarves and vocal cords for tonight’s match. (Personally, I am speaking at a literary event in a local village – we’re not expecting a large turnout…) I have blogged several times before about the corruption at the heart of FIFA (here and here, for example) and indeed about individual players falling prey to financial temptations of all sorts. But – like my friend David in London, who brought this particular story to my attention yesterday – I have often wondered why those who are paying the bribes target the rich guys. Surely the ones to approach are the match officials. They are paid much, much, much less, and have the added bonus of being perceived as honest and incorruptible. Remember my recent post about professional enablers? A corrupt banker, lawyer or accountant is worth his weight in gold not least because the perception is that he will do the right thing, which makes it harder for his employer and the police and the public to be willing to believe the worst of him. Ditto the football referee or linesman.
A professional, top-level referee can earn well (as explained in this article) but compared to the salary of the players he is controlling it is (as the article says) peanuts. The best of the best, working his little black socks off, can go up to about £120,000 a year. Linesmen, being further down the chain of command, earn much less: back in 2008, when English linesmen were in dispute with their employer Professional Game Match Officials Limited, they earned about £145 a week. And so the bribe that could turn an official’s head must be much smaller than any that would be needed to influence a footballer’s behaviour.
How about a very affordable £450? That’s the bribe that was paid to Kenyan linesman Marwa Range during the African Nations Championship in Morocco in January 2018; he has just been banned for life (before his arrest, he had been due to officiate in Russia). The Confederation of African Football has banned ten other referees for between two and ten years for similar offences, and a further eleven have been suspended pending their hearings next month.
It seems obvious to me: if you want to control an organisation, you need to corrupt the ones who enforce its rules – be that client relationship managers, football referees or (perish the thought) MLROs.