21st May 2020

Heightened match-fixing threat to individual sports

Sport’s integrity bodies are appealing for the governing bodies of individual sports and bookmakers to be vigilant, due to signs of increased betting and match-fixing. Whilst team sports remain suspended, individual sports where social distancing is possible – such as tennis, snooker, horse racing and others – have announced tentative steps towards resumption.

The International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA) reported a 65% rise in suspicious betting alerts during the first quarter of 2020. The body is funded by licensed bookmakers, who share details of suspicious betting with sports governing bodies. The majority (31 of 61) of the suspicious betting alerts in the first quarter of 2020 related to tennis.

Whilst international tennis remains suspended until 31 July, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has published a list of countries where some form of tennis is permitted. A letter exchange (PDF below) between the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) and IBIA warns that ‘ad-hoc’ unsanctioned events or exhibition events, such as April’s Tennis Point tournament in Berlin, could be targeted by ‘corrupters to exploit the current situation’.

‘Intelligence obtained by the TIU suggests that corruption risks around some of these events may be heightened’, reads the above letter. ‘We are supportive of players returning to play and understand that spectators and bettors are keen to get back to the sport. However, we need to ensure as a priority that the integrity of sport is protect, and so extra vigilance is needed given these events fall outside of the TACP [Tennis Anti-Corruption Program].’

‘When deciding whether to offer betting on matches or competitions, we urge great caution in offering betting on those with no umpires and/or whole integrity risk management plans cannot be ascertained’, the letter continues. ‘We would include events that are promoted as purely “Exhibition” matches (i.e. not intended to be competitive events) in the same risk category at this time’.

A World Snooker statement outlined similar concerns. “In these unprecedented times, there has been a shift in focus from team sports to more individual sports”, said Antonio Zefara, Sports Integrity Manager at the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA), which added World Snooker to data sharing agreements with the Swedish football association (SvFF), the Malta Football Association (MFA), the TIU, the International Cricket Council (ICC), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to name a few. “Hence, this period proved to be a perfect example of how stakeholders of sports and sports betting integrity need to widen their horizons in terms of collaboration”.

It would appear that such concerns are not unwarranted. Licensed bookmaker William Hill told the Las Vegas Review Journal that table tennis has been its number one sport during the Covid-19 pandemic, and close to US$1 million in daily bets are placed on Russian table tennis.

The main event concerned is the Moscow Liga Pro, which is understood to involve around 100 matches per day. Its calendar shows the number of games taking place at the moment. Ray Marino of bookmaker.eu told a VSiN podcast that he believes instances of match-fixing may have occurred. 

The tournament appears to be owned by the League of Professional Tournaments (Лига профессиональных турниров), which appears to also operate a 3×3 basketball league; a short hockey (ice hockey) league; a volleyball league; and an e-sports league. Table tennis, volleyball, and e-sport games are currently being played.

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