The Lead

Last month, American cyclist and “winner” of seven consecutive Tour de France races Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey he used performance enhancing drugs throughout his racing career. Despite that evidence of his drug use had been publicly available for years, many in the press and wider public used the occasion to condemn Armstrong as a manipulator, a liar and a cheater.

At the core of everyone’s outrage was the fact Armstrong had attempted to gain advantage over his opponents by using banned substances to improve his physique. When we watched Armstrong win those races, we didn’t see what we thought we saw—a man relying on his own strength defeating his sporting rivals.

Armstrong is simply the stand-in villain for a widespread condemnation of PED use in sports, a phenomenon that has marred the careers of other athletes, particularly in Major League Baseball. Despite the sometimes murky line between where an athlete’s own innate ability ends and performance-enhancing drugs begins, the public has been very quick to condemn PED users as “cheaters,” happy to see their records wiped or their legacies asterisked out of existence.

Since the dark days of the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal however, illegal match-fixing has yet to spark the same public or media outrage, especially in football. Some of the reasons for this are obvious. For one, match fixing tends to focus on “dead rubbers,” those final group stage matches with little consequence in World Cup qualifying or Champions League knockout stage competition.

Moreover, there are often no high-profile, individual villains in match-fixing scandals. While some players have come under scrutiny, particularly in the course of recent match-fixing scandals in Italy, most of the time the perpetrators are journeymen from lower league side whose careers have long settled into an uncertain pattern of mediocrity, and they are simply following a script engineered by shady gang members based in Asia. It all feels far removed from the day-to-day business of competitive football.

And yet unlike the effect of a few individual players using PEDs, match-fixing completely undermines the integrity of the sport. Despite the growing effects of large-scale commercialism in football, fans still watch the single, ninety-minute football match played between any two sides on any given day in good faith. We believe players play to win. It’s why people buy tickets, or subscribe to expensive cable stations, or buy shirts with our favourite players’ names on the back.

Moreover, the notion that Asian betting syndicates won’t one day attempt to target matches that might actually mean something—perhaps a WCQ with implications for a third-party team for example—for an incredible payout is naive. The news today out of Europol should give everyone who loves football—and sport—pause. Because if we simply look the other way when players play in bad faith, we’re further damaging a sport that has taken far too much abuse as it is in the last two decades.

England

Europol identifies 380 fixed matches, includes Champions League games and World Cup qualifiers.

Paul Gascoigne requires 24-hour supervision after alcohol relapse.

Mancini says the title race is not over, confident City can still bring home the title.

West Ham manager uncertain about Andy Carroll’s future with the club.

Sturridge to miss England friendly vs Brazil.

Italy

Allegri to coach Milan next season.

Milan very pleased with Balotelli’s performance in debut.

La Liga

Former Real Sociedad president suspects doctors were also involved in the club’s doping scandal.

Xavi pulls out of this week’s Spain vs Uruguay friendly due to injury.

Germany

Germany without Goetze, Reus and Schmelzer for upcoming France friendly.

Sebastian Boenisch extends contract with Leverkusen till 2016.

Bit and Bobs

FIFA panel to consider changing offside law.

Brazil faces pressure to win 2014 World Cup.

Dalai Lama is a Bradford City supporter, blesses team ahead of FA Cup Final.

Here is a glimpse of the real Cristiano Ronaldo, the side media rarely pays attention to.

Thanks to Alima Hotakie for compiling today’s links.