By Brian Tuohy
After the 2014 World Cup groupings draw, many writers labeled Team USA's Group G the "group of death." Pitted against powerhouses Germany and Portugal as well as Ghana, some believe the hopes of World Cup glory in Brazil have already gone up in smoke for America.
Similar doom-and-gloom prophecies already surround the English team as its group draw included Italy, Costa Rica and Uruguay. To make matters worse, the chairman of their Football Association, Greg Dyke, was controversially caught on camera making a throat slashing motion when England's placement was announced. Dyke's gesture seemed to indicate that with a mere pull of a ping pong ball, England's chances of victory were gone before a single match kicked off.
It makes one wonder with these "over before it began" scenarios already being written, could someone or some entity like FIFA rig the drawing of these matchups?
While the World Cup tournament features 32 of the best teams from around the globe, certainly not all are created equal. There is no effortless path through to the final, but given the proper grouping as a result of the random draw, one team could be rewarded with an easier go of it than its opponents.
Such is considered to be the case for host country Brazil. While the Brazilians do have to face a tough Mexican team, their group is also comprised of underwhelming Croatian and Cameroon. Because of this, most feel that Brazil won't have a problem reaching the second round.
Could this have been artificially created? Could this globally televised event have been rigged? It seems like crazy "conspiracy" talk. But that's what The Conspiracy Theorist is here for.
To consider that such a scenario is even possible, one has to first believe that an entity like FIFA is capable of such corruption. For many soccer enthusiasts the world over, that isn't in doubt. FIFA has had numerous instances of corruption within its ranks, including the recent banishment of one-time FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam. It has also been attacked by anti-corruption entities like Transparency International over the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Many believe that the only way these decisions were made was via under-the-table payments to top FIFA officials. In fact, two members of FIFA's executive committee, Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, were suspended following accusations that both would accept bribes in exchange for votes.
With this notion in our back pocket, can we find a controversial tournament draw in the past? The answer is, of course, yes. Just one year ago, a curious thing occurred. The draw for the Champions League ended up being exactly the same as the "rehearsal draw" held the day before. No one seemed certain of what the odds would be of such an occurrence, given eight matchups between the 16 teams involved -- some estimates put the chances in the millions -- but as soon as writer Simon Head recognized the improbability of it, he wrote on the UK's Mirror live blog of the actual draw, "Start the conspiracies now!"
Many wouldn't consider this such a big deal. So what if the rehearsal draw matched the actual outcome? Well, think of it this way: What if ESPN released a mock NBA Draft Lottery result which had the team with the .05 percent chance of winning the number one overall pick getting the number one draw and the team with the .06 percent chance getting the number two pick as well, and then when the live reveal was broadcast, this turned out to be the actual result? Many fans already have a severe distrust of the NBA's lottery system. Such a result would undoubtedly add a lot of fuel to that smoldering fire, no matter if it were a simple twist of fate or not.
Has a World Cup draw been tampered with in the past? Not expressly, though there was a major malfunction at the draw for the 1982 World Cup held in Spain.
The South American teams of Chile and Peru were supposed to be separated from Argentina and Brazil, but officials goofed and wrongly left their names in the selection hopper. Then Belgium was selected to be in Brazil's group, followed by Scotland being placed in Argentina's group. Both of these placements were incorrectly made, causing great confusion in the room. A partial re-draw was necessitated. This came on top of some of the selection balls becoming jammed within the metal-caged hopper. One of the balls even broke, forcing officials to dig out the remains through the cage with their fingers.
But the billion dollar question is: Can such a random draw be influenced so it is not, in fact, random? If you watch the actual drawing of the teams for the 2014 World Cup, many would believe this impossible.
Here we have multiple people blindly selecting balls filled with a team name from glass bowls in front of a crowded ballroom filled with soccer dignitaries, in front of a worldwide television audience. How could you rig this?
Well, do you believe in magic? Granted, it's not Penn & Teller picking the balls out of the bowls. It's just guys like France's Zinedine Zidane, who famously was red-carded for headbutting Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final. Regardless, a little slight-of-hand could have amazing results.
Let's say that FIFA, for its own reasons, wanted to punish America by putting its team in a true "group of death." To do so, it would need only to influence the draw and select Team USA when needed. Could someone mark a ball a la the supposed "frozen envelope" from the 1985 NBA draft lottery, in which the New York Knicks drew the number one overall pick? Certainly. But say FIFA wanted to take it even further and intentionally set up the entire tournament to meet its whims. Is this possible? One would think not, until perhaps they saw this clip:
Taken from an unknown television program, it shows former Turkish refeere Ahmet Cakar "randomly" selecting balls from a glass bowl in the exact order as those that came up in the UEFA Europa League quarter-final draw. He did this on live television to prove to viewers that it is indeed possible to rig such a "blind" draw. He never revealed how he accomplished this trick, but it should make fans stop and think. It certainly can be done. The question remains, did it happen?
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Brian Tuohy has been called America's leading sports conspiracy theorist, but really he's just highly skeptical when it comes to what the sports leagues tell their fans. He's also one of the few writers brave enough to tackle the topic of game fixing in sports, detailing evidence of it in his books Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI and The Fix Is In: The Showbiz Manipulations of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NASCAR. He also runs the semi-popular website thefixisin.net.