By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) - The World Cup finals are not exempt from attempts to rig games and FIFA is leaving nothing to chance, the head of security at soccer's governing body told Reuters in an interview.
Ralf Mutschke said FIFA could even postpone a match if there were indications it had been targeted for manipulation by criminal gangs, although he stressed such a measure would be a last resort.
He added that there was a thin line between gambling-induced match-fixing and the scenario of teams playing to a cosy draw at the end of the group stage so that both qualified for the next round, something which he generally considered to be tactical and outside his main area of responsibility.
Match-fixing has become a huge concern for soccer's authorities in the last few years as illegal gambling rings pay players, referees or officials to manipulate games and make enormous amounts of money by betting on the outcome.
Often, manipulators prefer to act away from the limelight, concentrating on low-profile international friendlies and national leagues in smaller countries.
However, Mutschke, a former high-ranking officer in the German federal police with more than 30 years' experience of crime-fighting, said that so much money was gambled on World Cup matches that criminals were bound to be tempted.
"You have big betting on the World Cup matches, you have a lot of money involved in that betting, therefore we have to consider that fixers would like to manipulate World Cup matches, therefore we have to counter that," Mutschke told Reuters.
"It would be stupid not to take into consideration that World Cup matches could be targets of fixers. We have to prepare ourselves and of course not believe that the World Cup is exempt," he added.
Mutschke said FIFA security officers would be at each of the 64 matches during the June 12/July 13 tournament in Brazil, armed with a detailed dossier on which games carried the highest risk.
"We have a coherent strategy to counter match manipulation starting with risk assessment and focusing on teams playing, whether in the past there have been allegations of fixing or not, also at which stage the game is being played, is it a group match, at the beginning or the end," he said.
"All of our matches are monitored on the betting market through the Early Warning System and the entire FIFA security team will be in Brazil."
"If unusual betting patterns were detected before a game, we would need even more than a strong indication that a fix is being set up before calling a match off. But if we had clear evidence of a fixed match why should we let such a match go? We have to protect the integrity of our competition," Mutschke added.
"Cancel, postpone, stop. Theoretically possible...but this is the last resort, it's really the last step you can take.
"If we had real information, immediately before a game, if we knew that fixers had infiltrated the match through players, or referees, this would be an option.
"But, obviously, we have other measures we could implement before that."
He said that teams would be more vulnerable to attempted manipulation if the players had not been paid or been bickering over bonuses.
"Generally, and not only for the World Cup, if players are not paid accordingly, it raises the risk of them being approached, and of accepting a bribe, this is normal," he said. "But, it's only part of the whole picture."
Mutschke said that cases of teams playing out a tame match in a group match to produce a result that suited both of them would not normally be considered match-fixing.
There have been several incidents at the World Cup in the past, the most notorious being West Germany's 1-0 win over Austria at the 1982 World Cup which sent both sides into the knockout stages at the expense of Algeria.
"It's not linked to my core business, it's something I would qualify as tactics," said Mutschke.
"It's like where you have one team already qualified in a Champions League or World Cup game and they don't put out their first team because they don't want to risk injury, or they want to get some rest.
"It is a thin line, somehow....it's very difficult. What do you consider to be the tactical movement of a coach and what is the manipulation of matches?
"This is not reflected on the betting market, it might be reflected because they might lower the rates for a draw, but it is not typically what we are aiming at.
"It's a really tough question: we had a strong discussion in our areas as well, but this is still to be considered as tactical freedom of the coach or the teams."
Mutschke said the key was whether coaches had negotiated with each other.
"It's a wide-ranging discussion and something which has probably to be assessed on the particular match," he added.
"At the end, the competent judicial body will have to consider and decide on the case."
(Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Rex Gowar)