How Football Leaks Is Exposing Corruption in European Soccer
Author: Sam Knight
Source: New Yorker (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/06/03/how-football-leaks-is-exposing-corruption-in-european-soccer)
Did you know that last season, according to the accounting firm Deloitte, European soccer had revenues of twenty-eight billion dollars, about the same as Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and the National Football League combined. European soccer is the most lucrative sports arena in the world and the scale of money on offer is leading to corruption. Now thanks to a Portuguese website called Football Leaks the rest of the world is getting to understand the nature and the scale of the corruption. The site is run by a 30 year old Portuguese man, Rui Pinto, who has been jailed for the way he hacked his way to nearly 90 million documents involving the purchase, sale and transfer of football players.
When we read about the transfer of a player from Club X to Club Y, we imagine this to a bilateral contract. The reality is something else:
“The first documents released by Football Leaks related to a controversial investment model known as third-party ownership. One of the ways that clubs make money is by buying and selling players. T.P.O., which originated in Latin America, allows external parties to buy a stake in promising young players, in the hope of profiting from a huge transfer deal one day. (In 2017, the Brazilian striker Neymar was sold by Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for around a quarter of a billion dollars.) Proponents of T.P.O. describe it as a form of lending, but many fans believe that it gives investors too much control over a club’s roster and the shape of players’ careers, by influencing when and where a player might be traded.
In Portugal, one of the most vehement critics of T.P.O. was Bruno de Carvalho, the president of Sporting Lisbon, who described it as “a monster coming to football.” fifa, soccer’s global governing body, banned the practice in May, 2015. But the contracts that Varela read on Football Leaks showed that Sporting Lisbon had entered into a secret, T.P.O.-like arrangement with an Angolan club named Recreativo da Caála. “It was powerful,” Varela said. “People say one thing but they are doing something completely different.””
The nature of the criminal activity which characterises European football is rich and varied:
“The information provided by Pinto has led to the conviction of dozens of top soccer players for tax evasion. It has prompted the Las Vegas police department to investigate an allegation of rape against Ronaldo. It has also revealed likely rule-breaking by Manchester City, the all-conquering champions of the English game, and a plan by Europe’s leading teams to leave their national leagues and form their own competition.”
This New Yorker story is made more complicated and more interesting because the man behind the hacking and leaking of this data is an unemployed Portuguese university student living in Hungary and hacking his way into the accounts of banks and football clubs across Europe.