When the Lithuanian national football (soccer) team lost in a 0-1 game to Bosnia-Herzegovina on October 13, they lost their chance to vie for the 2014 World Cup. They were part of Group G in the qualifying rounds. Greece was the other Group G team that made it to Brazil.
None of the three Baltic nations has ever qualified for the global football championship finals. The Lithuanian national team is currently ranked number 106 in the world, just below Iran and the Central African Republic, but above Ethiopia and Kenya. Lithuania has won the Baltic Cup ten times since its inauguration in 1928.
Unfortunately, the Lithuanian football league may be better known for something else: corruption.
A survey of players by Transparency International (TI) last year found that one-fifth of all football players know or suspect they’ve played in fixed matches. Fully 15 percent of all football players admitted they’ve been approached to fix a match.
More than half the football players surveyed believe it’s a common practice, but the majority of them don’t think it’s important.
TI ran an educational campaign called “Staying Onside” from 2013-14 against corruption in football. The Lithuanian chapter of TI participated, along with Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal and the UK. One of its major goals was to get national football leagues to work and cooperate with their local anti-corruption bodies.
According to TI, one major cause of corruption in sports is when players or officials gamble or otherwise find themselves in financial problems. Robert O’Conner at the well-respected AFR football blog puts a much of the blame on a mix of weak labor laws and low private investment in Lithuania's local clubs. Employment law in that country still hasn’t come out of the Soviet shadow, leaving professional athletes uncertain of their legal rights. At the same time, the transition from state to private support for football has left the league underfunded.
These problems aren’t unique to Lithuania. Neither is the problem of match-fixing. But those shenanigans pale in comparison to rampant corruption in the International Olympic Committee and in football’s global governing body, FIFA.
If you haven't yet, watch John Oliver’s rant on FIFA. And here's a timeline summarizing the most recent allegations that Qatar bought off FIFA officials in order to get the 2022 World Cup.
Football in 120 heat, what could go wrong? At least there will be beer when "the beautiful game" arrives in Qatar.
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