9th March 2018

Tackling Match Fixing: threat posed to lower tiers

The scrutiny of sporting federations, integrity organisations and betting monitoring companies on high profile sport has meant that criminals have focussed their attention on fixing lower tiers, heard delegates at the Tackling Match Fixing conference in London today. “There is almost no match-fixing in the top tier”, said Sportradar’s Oscar Brodkin. “The federations are doing such a good job of stamping it out in the top tier that it has moved to the lower tiers, which are less policed. That is what we’re seeing and it is being pushed out to other sports. Every sport being offered for betting is being soiled by match-fixing by people who can’t fix games in top leagues. This seems to be increasing because of a hole left by a decrease in match-fixing in the top tier. There is no outlet for organised crime to make money from the top tier, so they go elsewhere.”

This includes leagues in less high-profile countries and sports other than football. Delegates heard about match-fixing investigations taking place in Russia, Ghana and Slovenia, cases involving sports such as skiing and bridge, as well as a case involving female U17 players in Moldova. Match-fixers are also reading the news and are actively targeting players at clubs where wages have not been paid.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) began an investigation into five Nepalese players after reading a 2014 book published by Wilson Raj Perumal, said Benoit Pasquier, the confederation’s General Counsel. He added that they had to sanction the five players in order to force the Nepalese authorities to take action on match-fixing, and the players facing life sentences until laws in the country were changed.

Eleven percent of professional footballers will receive a match-fixing approach in their careers, said Professor David Forrest of the University of Liverpool. Yet it would appear that match-fixing cases are not making it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), due to the high threshold of proof required to uphold a match-fixing charge.

William Sternheimer, Deputy Secretary General of the CAS, said it had issued 28 rulings on match-fixing since 2008. Nineteen involve football, five involve tennis, two involve cricket, one involved skiing and one involved bridge, a card game.

The skiing case involved violinist Vanessa Mae, who was alleged to have fixed an event in an attempt to qualify for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics. The bridge ruling is available here. Sternheimer said that in 17 of these cases, the CAS dismissed appeals from the parties concerned; in six cases appeals were partially upheld (i.e. the sentence or fine was reduced); and five cases were fully upheld.

“I think we have an epidemic”, said Professor Forrest, because “there is money to be made from the betting markets if you can organise match-fixing”. He pointed out that in 2000, the gross gaming yield (GGY), which indicates the income of operators after payouts to gamblers, was €6 billion. By 2016, it had grown to €30 billion.

Delegates heard just how lucrative match-fixing can be for determined criminal organisations. Italian prosecutors found that organised crime had bought a top-tier Italian game for the going rate of €600,000, said Professor Forest. From this, it is understood that they made €8 million on the Asian betting markets.

When Ante Sapina and an accomplice were jailed in Germany during 2011, prosecutors found that their organisation had manipulated 320 games in 13 countries, across two continents, said Forrest. They made €13 million profit after paying off players in one year alone, continued Forrest. “In some countries, the majority of clubs are in criminal hands, and have been purchased explicitly for match-fixing”, said Forrest, who argued for stricter controls on the ownership of clubs.

Sporting confederations argued that they are doing their part. Nick Raudenski, Chief Integrity Officer at UEFA, said that 32,000 football games are analysed each year, including 1,800 in UEFA competitions. He said that UEFA is developing a platform for integrity officers that will allow information on match-fixing, as well as best practice, alerts and educational material to be confidentially shared.

Alfredo Lorenzo, Integrity Director at La Liga, said that the Spanish league was behind reports that led to the recent 32 arrests for match-fixing in Spain. He said that they received information from a whistleblower, and similarities were noticed with other Spanish games. It is understood that since February 2017, La Liga has reported over 20 matches to the police, and between 80% and 90% of them involve the same criminal organisation.

Delegates heard how more needs to be done. Delegates heard that player education and information sharing are key, but that changes in methods of betting are also causing problems. The commercialisation of match data means that bets can be placed on almost any aspect of a sporting event, and more analysis needs to be carried out on who collects that data from which tiers of sport, and how it is used.

Tackling Match Fixing in Sport is organised by Inside World Football and Rex Sport. A summary of tweets from today’s proceedings is available here. Follow @Sport_Integrity on Twitter for updates from the concluding day of the conference, which takes place tomorrow.

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