12th March 2018

Sport faces match-fixing crisis unless it takes action now

Sport needs to take action on match-fixing immediately as it is losing the battle to organised crime, heard delegates at the second day of the Tackling Match Fixing conference in London on Saturday. “We are not winning this fight”, said Emanuel Macedo de Medeiros, CEO of the Sports Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA), in marked contrast to comments made on the first day of the conference. “We are losing it big time”.

“I am fed up of excuses”, said De Medeiros, who argued that that governments and sport need to pull together to tackle the organised criminals behind match-fixing. Delegates at the conference heard about match-fixing issues in Albania, Croatia, Finland, Korea, Mexico, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and other countries. In some cases, entire federations are understood to be corrupt, which makes it difficult for sport to act.

“How many more scandals do you need?” De Medeiros told The Sports Integrity Initiative after the conference. “We have seen this unprecedented tsunami falling upon FIFA. You have seen the largest sporting organisations in the world being decapitated, from FIFA to UEFA to CONCACAF to CONMEBOL. All the organisations and individuals with responsibility need to wake up and so something about it. Sport needs to shape its own future on a voluntary basis, and I think that the world of sport has not yet come together in terms of collaborative attitudes in the way that it should. I am also aware of a lack of means in terms of law enforcement.”

Yves Le Lostecque, Head of the Sports Unit at the European Commission, said that the body “fully respects” the autonomy of sport. As such, it avoids intervening in sport unless absolutely necessary, as it does not fall within its competences. He said that the Commission could offer financial support for educational programmes through the Erasmus programme, and is pushing for more countries to ratify the Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions (Macolin Convention). He warned that sport must do better in terms of implementing good governance to maintain its autonomy.

“Professional football is a business”, said Theo Van Seggelen, Secretary General at the international federation of players associations, FIFPro. “We all need to take responsibility, including the European Commission. It is too easy to leave it to somebody else. The vulnerable players are the young and those at the end of their career. The European Commission should participate more actively in the debate about match-fixing.”

Van Seggelen painted a stark picture of how poor governance and practice within football enables match-fixing opportunities to arise. “The players are the victims”, he said. “They have no protection”. He said that although some progress has been made, in many countries footballers are still self-employed and do not have an employment contract. This allows club owners to manipulate players by refusing to pay them until they lose by two goals. Coercion and manipulation unconnected to money are also a major issue, he pointed out.

Van Seggelen said that FIFPro had realised the magnitude of the problem back in 2011, when it held a conference on Eastern European football in Thessaloniki featuring 150 players. “At a certain moment, I asked who is involved in match-fixing”, he said. “120 players raised their hands”.

“Clubs are being run by organised crime”, said De Medeiros. He used the example of Portuguese club Atlético, which he said was owned by a company controlled by match-fixers who bought 70% of the shares for €140,000. It is understood that De Medeiros is referring to Hong Kong-based company Anping Football Limited, which is owned by Eric Mao. The Chinese national is reported to have links to convicted match-fixer, Wilson Raj Perumal. “The club has now collapsed”, said De Medeiros of Atlético.

It is understood that Anping Football Limited also bought 70% of Athlone Town, shortly before UEFA notified the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) about suspicious betting patterns involving the club. The company is also understood to have invested in Romanian club FC Clinceni.

Van Seggelen pointed out that two years ago, the previous President of the Spanish football association (RFEF) had claimed that there was no match-fixing in Spain. Yesterday at the Tackling Match Fixing conference, Spain’s La Liga explained that it had been providing information to the Spanish police about fixing in the lower leagues of football since February 2017, which resulted in 32 arrests.

He explained that FIFPro understands that 25% of the matches in Korean football are fixed; and that in Finland, a match-fixer had bought a club for €200,000. Van Seggelen said that 5% of female footballers have been contacted by match-fixers.

‘Russia moment’

In 2010, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) received information from two whistleblowers that State supported doping was occurring in Russia. It did not have the appetite to investigate the issue, as revealed by WADA’s frustrated former Chief Investigator, Jack Robertson. WADA’s lack of action forced him to pass the information to German journalist Hajo Seppelt.

In 2012, Darya Pishchalnikova independently corroborated the information provided by the Vitaly Stepanov and Yuliya Stepanova in a letter to WADA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Mail on Sunday provided another independent source of information that State doping was occurring in Russia in a July 2013 exposé. It also sent its evidence to WADA and the IOC.

WADA had three independent sources of information about a serious issue affecting the integrity of sport, yet it did nothing until after Hajo Seppelt produced his December 2014 documentary. It is still playing catch up now.

WADA’s International Standard for Code Compliance (ISCC), which will come into force on 1 April, allows it to sanction anti-doping organisations that do not ‘vigorously pursue all potential anti-doping rule violations within its jurisdiction including investigation into whether Athlete Support Personnel or other Persons may have been involved in each case of doping’. Sport needs to implement something similar now to sanction federations and leagues that do not investigate match-fixing, or do not cooperate with match-fixing investigations.

Delegates at Tackling Match Fixing heard how federations, leagues and clubs have been infiltrated by organised criminals determined to fix games. If nobody collects data from a game, no bets can be taken. A few federations and leagues do restrict betting on non-professional games. Yet federations and leagues often do not restrict the collection of data from lower league, amateur or youth games, which can then be used to offer bets. Sometimes this data is collected under integrity partnerships billed as protecting sport. What happens to that data and how it is used is often ignored.

Sport now faces its ‘Russia moment’ with regards to match-fixing. Sport can take action and it needs to do it now, before a similar scenario to the one outlined above plays out. It needs to do this irrespective of any action by law enforcement agencies. Only sport can take action in regulating against those who do not initiate and cooperate with match-fixing investigations. Only sport can restrict the supply of data that betting operators need to take bets on lower league, amateur, and youth matches.

As Van Seggelen pointed out, the players that take part in these games are vulnerable, because they are more susceptible to corruption than well paid professionals. They need to be protected, and sport is currently failing them. As was pointed out by Canadian journalist Declan Hill, sport faces the accusation that it has institutionalised match-fixing in the same way as it has institutionalised doping, unless it takes action now. Otherwise the promises made at Tackling Match Fixing are little more than the hot air he claims them to be.

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