While suspicions and allegations of corruption have long plagued fútbol, rarely has a team just come out and said it received a cash offer for a specific outcome. But on Monday, that’s exactly what El Salvador did. At a press conference ahead of tonight’s final World Cup Qualification match against Canada, El Salvador’s national team brought to light a bizarre match-fixing offer.
With the whole team present, it revealed that Salvadoran businessman Ricardo Padilla tried to pay players to give Honduras the upper hand, claiming he was acting on behalf of an unidentified Honduran associate. The players backed up their claim with an audio recording, in which Padilla can be heard offering players money for every minute they play in the game. Final amounts were tied to the end result of the match: a win would earn the team $30 per minute, a tie could have meant $20 per minute. Padilla tried to make it worth their time regardless – even a 1-0 loss could have earned them $15 per minute.
To understand the implications of the offer, one need look no further than the standings in Group A of CONCACAF’s World Cup Qualifying semi-final round. Mexico is safely through to the next round, and El Salvador has been eliminated. Honduras leads Canada for the last qualification spot by three points, with a tie-breaker advantage because Honduras has a goal difference of 0 compared to Canada’s -5. Should Canada beat El Salvador while Mexico beats Honduras, it would come down to the margins of victory in both games to decide which team advances.
The results sought by Padilla would make qualification impossible for Canada (in the event of an El Salvador win or draw) or very unlikely (even if Canada won 1-0).
In the recording, one of the players asks about the identity of the Honduran individual making the bribe. “If we’re being frank, why not tell us the name of your friend so we can know – because keep in mind the things that have happened here,” the player says, presumably alluding to FIFA’s ban of 14 Salvadoran players for life for match-fixing a couple years ago.
While Padilla didn’t reveal the millionaire’s identity, he did counter with a truly genius rationalization that indicates he’s been around the shady block. Padilla told the players that match-fixing only applies to making money for throwing a match. He explained that the offer wasn’t tied to gambling or any other gains – according to Padilla, the mysterious Honduran figure is a millionaire-type who doesn’t need money, and his offer was just for the love of his country.
On that front, a player told Padilla the mystery Honduran had nothing to worry about. “Tell your friend to be calm, because we want to finish this qualification with dignity,” he said. “We’ve only thought about winning, and sadly yesterday [against Mexico] we couldn’t. But don’t worry, we are going to give it our best, just like if we were still playing for qualification.”
Ramón Maradiaga, El Salvador’s Honduran coach, didn’t attend the meeting. And Padilla didn’t deny the allegations. “Why did I do it? Because it makes me sad that our nation’s fans suffer so much over the national team,” he said. He further made it clear that he saw nothing wrong or immoral in his proposal. “I’m not worried, people can see this in a bad light if they want, or they can see it in a good light.”
Snitches typically get stitches. But given its history, El Salvador had to look out for itself. Of course, Padilla doesn’t see it that way. He actively believes they lost out on a good opportunity. “And I’ll say one thing, what if they win, tie or lose 1-0 tomorrow? Do you think they won’t feel like they lost out on money? Do you know how much it was in total? It was $40,000, because on top of what I already mentioned, I was going to give them an extra $10,000 to share with the player who didn’t play, which they didn’t even let me say,” he added.
FIFA is currently investigating the bribe. The whole situation will cast a dark cloud over whatever happens tonight between Honduras, Canada, and El Salvador. But respect to the players for not only turning down the offer, but announcing it in the most public way possible so that we all know what’s up.