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Jul 11, 2013

Officials had eye on alleged match-fixer

SALT LAKE CITY -- A man who allegedly offered two Belize players large sums of money to fix a Gold Cup match against the United States has been identified by football officials, and he's believed to have tried to fix matches in other countries.

In a statement on Thursday, CONCACAF said it and FIFA are investigating the bribery allegations made by Ian Gaynair and Woodrow West. The players said they rejected the offer, made on Sunday, and immediately reported it. When a CONCACAF representative showed them a photo of a man being monitored for trying to fix matches in other countries, the Belize players confirmed it was the same man who approached them.

"So this isn't just about our country or a one-time thing," coach Ian Mork said after practice. "This is something much bigger."

Belize lost to the United States 6-1 on Tuesday in its first Gold Cup appearance. It faces Costa Rica here on Saturday, and finishes Group C play next Tuesday with a game against Cuba.

CONCACAF said it could not comment further on the ongoing investigation. But Mork said he doesn't believe the players were asked to fix any other games beside Tuesday's match against the U.S.

FIFA investigated reports of fixed matches at the 2011 Gold Cup, with Sports Illustrated reporting the questionable games involved Cuba, Grenada and El Salvador.

Only two of the 23 players in Belize's squad play professionally: Goalkeeper Shane Orio and defender Elroy Smith play in Honduras. The rest have regular jobs and play in the semi-pro league in Belize in their free time.

"We're just trying our best to compete at this level," said Mork, an American. "I could see how they would be targets, I guess, but our minds don't really go there. It was a big shock."

Mork and the players said Gaynair and West were approached on Sunday in Portland, Oregon, where they played the Americans, by a man who had also been at their hotel in Guatemala City in June when they faced Guatemala in a friendly.

"He was wanting to become friends and come visit Belize," Mork said. "Then all of sudden he also showed up in Portland. It was through this kind of friendship of wanting to support the Belize team. It was obviously part of a plan to target our players."

Mork and the players wouldn't give specifics about the offer, referring questions to CONCACAF. Gaynair, a defender who scored Belize's lone goal against the United States, said only that the man asked them to "assure him that we would lose the match." West did confirm the basics of the accounts he first gave to a Belize TV station this week, saying that the man offered him a lump sum of money, but no specific amount, to "sell the game" against the United States.

"We turned the offer down. We did what we were supposed to," West said. "FIFA has control of that now."

Though CONCACAF pays travel expenses once the team arrived in the United States, Belize had to do fundraisers back home to come up with enough money for the rest of their expenses.

"Man, we did barbecues, we did telethons, all kinds of things to reach where we are at right now," Gaynair said.

Mork said he was surprised match-fixing touched his squad.

"I was really proud of the players," he added. "They did the right thing."

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