Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Book Review: The Fix, by Declan Hill (2008)

The Fix shines the spotlight on global match-fixing in the world of football. Author Declan Hill tours Asia, Europe and Africa to expose the illegal gambling cartels that make millions by betting on football games and fixing the results accordingly. In countries like Singapore, China, Malaysia, Ghana and various European football capitals, he meets the players, the referees, the club officials, the game administrators, and most intriguingly, the fixers themselves. The Fix makes it clear that at the competitive level, no game, no tournament, no league and no country is immune from match-fixing.

Match fixing is not a new phenomenon, and Hill presents some of the origins of fixing back to the earliest days of the organized game in England. What is new is the internationalization of gambling and match-fixing operations, with the entry into the market of Asian gangs eager to profit from the insatiable gambling habits of the population in southeast Asia, and the ease with which the Internet now allows the placement of large bets at any time on any game anywhere in the world.

The book does a good job explaining the problem. The reasons and motivations behind match-fixing are presented from all perspectives. The methods of match-fixing, both on and off the field, are also revealed and explained in detail. Real-world examples are presented, drawn from interviews, court transcripts, and police interrogation reports. The currency of match-fixing, namely money, sex, and violence, as well as the code of conduct among the fixers, are all revealed.

Hill is foremost an investigative journalist, and he does not hesitate to describe his personal experiences tracking down the principle characters and his witnessing of fixed games unfold in real time. At the same time Hill is a fan of football, and he shares the pain that he feels is caused by the slimy underbelly of the game, and his frustration with the lack of serious action to tackle the problem, or at least control it.

In terms of writing skills, the book leaves a lot to be desired. The first two Parts of the book, titled Asia: The Storm Clouds and Europe: A Normal Way of Business, are very choppily written, and Hill demonstrates an amateurish style that jumps from place to place, from year to year, and from incident to incident, often within a few paragraphs. He self-interrupts his own narrative, and provides little depth or colour. The third Part of the book, titled World Cup is much better. Hill seems to hit his stride, and conveys genuine emotion and much greater depth. The book does finish on a high, ironically in the slums of Kenya, as The Fix links the best and worst of the world -- and the world of football -- in the touching story of a girls' football team.

The Fix is a book that will, for better or for worse, change the way that we watch football, and the next time we see a poor defensive play result in a goal, it will be fair to wonder if somewhere in the world, a gang lord is smiling as his fix unfolds according to plan.

314 pages, plus Notes, Bibliography, and Index

Hardcover published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart

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