SALT LAKE CITY
A man who allegedly offered three Belize players large sums of money to fix a CONCACAF Gold Cup match against the United States already was being watched by international soccer officials, the team’s coach said Thursday.
The players – Ian Gaynair, Woodrow West and Andres Makin – said they rejected the offer and immediately reported it. When a CONCACAF representative showed them a photo of a man being monitored for trying to fix matches in other countries, the Belize players confirmed it was the same man who had approached them.
There was no immediate comment from CONCACAF, the regional federation representing North and Central America and the Caribbean.
“So this isn’t just about our country or a one-time thing,” coach Ian Mork said after the team’s practice. “This is something much bigger.”
Belize is last in Group C after its 6-1 loss to the U.S. on Tuesday night. It will play Costa Rica on Saturday and will finish group play Tuesday against Cuba in East Hartford, Conn.
Mork and the players said Gaynair, West and Makin were approached earlier this week in Portland, Ore., where they played the Americans, by a man who also had been at their hotel in Guatemala City in June when the Jaguars faced Guatemala in an exhibition.
“He was wanting to become friends and come visit Belize,” Mork said. “Then all of sudden he also showed up in Portland. It was through this kind of friendship of wanting to support the Belize team. It was obviously part of a plan to target our players.”
Mork and the players wouldn’t give specifics about the offer, referring questions to CONCACAF. Gaynair, a defender who scored Belize’s lone goal against the U.S., only said the man asked them to “assure him that we would lose the match.”
West, a goalie, confirmed the basics of the accounts he first gave to a Belize TV station this week, saying the man offered him money but no specific amount to “sell the game” against the U.S.
“We turned the offer down. We did what we were supposed to,” West said. “FIFA has control of that now.”
Mork said he doesn’t believe the players were asked to fix any other games beside Tuesday’s match against the U.S.
“We’re just trying our best to compete at this level,” said Mork, an American. “I could see how they would be targets, I guess, but our minds don’t really go there. It was a big shock.”
FIFA has estimated that fixers make more than $5 billion in profits each year from manipulating matches across all sports, which attract hundreds of billions in wagers with legal and unlicensed operators. The Gold Cup can be a particularly attractive target because of the disparity in the level of competition. Lopsided scores are to be expected when World Cup regulars play small nations such as Belize, which is making its first appearance in the Gold Cup and only has two players who play professionally.
The other 21 players on the Jaguars’ roster have regular jobs and play in the semipro league in Belize in their free time.
Though CONCACAF pays travel expenses once the team arrived in the U.S., the Jaguars had to raise money to meet the rest of their costs.
“Man, we did all kind of thing to reach where we are at right now,” Gaynair said. “We did barbecues, we did telethons, all kind of thing.”
Though Mork said he knows match-fixing is a problem that plagues soccer globally, he still was surprised that it touched his squad.
“I was really proud of the players,” he said. “They did the right thing.”