Three Belize national team players have alleged that an unidentified man appoached them offering bribes in exchange for throwing their Gold Cup opener against the US in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday.
Ian "Yolo" Gaynair, Woodrow West and Andres Makin Jr. told 7 News Belize that the man first attempted to befriend them in Guatemala before the tournament, then reappeared while they were visiting a mall in Portland, flashing stacks of cash.
“He started talking that we don't really stand a chance to beat the US so he wanted us to promise him that we would lose the game,” said Gaynair, the only one of the trio who played in the 6-1 loss to the USMNT, “and that he would give us a large amount of money to change our lives in Belize and to help our families.
“I felt really uncomfortable just to be around the guy because I was already aware about the match-fixing and I know that I could get banned for life. He saw that my features changed and he saw that we weren't into it, so he got frightened and took out a large amount of money to bribe us, a lot of 100- and 50-dollar bills and threw it at us on the table and told us to keep it and to not say anything and to keep the money.
"I told him, 'We can't take that money,' because at the end of the day, our entire country is behind us and we just made history for these big games so we can't just sell out our country for a little bit of money. At the end of the day, we might not be making a lot of money in Belize, but still we have to look at our career and our future."
All three players said they denied the match-fixer's attempts, and West affirmed that this prompted the man to offer another bribe merely to keep quiet about the affair.
"I made him understand that we're not into taking money from him or anything like that, and we're here for our country – regardless if we're in the USA but we're not into that, none at all," said the Jaguars' backup goalkeeper. "He got frightened and we walked – Yolo walked away and I followed him because I didn't want to stay back there so when we went he chased us and grabbed us and told us not to tell anyone, and that if we didn't tell anyone that when we got to Belize, he would give us 10,000 euros."
Belizean federation officials subsequently praised their players' handling of the situation but noted that it represents a risk facing national-team programs of humble means. The Jaguars have had to scramble to raise funds for their first-ever Gold Cup experience and 7 News Belize also reported that players' contracts were only finalized a few hours before the US match on Tuesday.
"I'm happy that the players came forward and made the report when they were approached," said Ruperto Vicente, head of the Football Federation of Belize. "When people like this find that the players are clamoring for monies, they become targets for people who are involved in match fixing. Belize then has become a target because they realize we are a poor federation. We're a federation that doesn't have money and who isn't paying the players a lot of money.
"So monies offered to players by match fixers is very attractive so they will come and offer to our players. But understand that we had spoken to our players and we told them that there will be people in the United States who will come and try to bribe them and get them to be involved in match-fixing."