Naivety made Sweden an attractive market for fixers
Photo: Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game
The first Swedish book on match-fixing identifies 54 matches in football and basketball in Sweden reported to the police suspected of being fixed. The big number of matches can be seen as a result of the naive and dismissive attitude towards match-fixing shown by sports leaders and lawmakers in the country
In the book “Matchfixarna. Hotet mot nationalsporten” (The fixers. The threat against a national sport), we argue that the adoption of this attitude has made Sweden an attractive target for fixers.
In November 2011 Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, then Swedish minister of sport, made a public statement on match-fixing.
”Match-fixing is not a problem in Swedish sport,” she said and later told the parliament that Sweden had legislation to handle the growing problem that football leaders like Michel Platini, then president of UEFA, strongly warned about.
This was not true. In our book we have identified 54 Swedish matches in football (48) and basketball (6) played 2012-2017 that have been reported to the police with suspicion that they were fixed.
Although all of these matches might not actually have been fixed they are so many that it is definitely fair to say that it was wrong to conclude that fixing is non-existing in Sweden. And the number of matches that have slipped under the radar is probably a lot higher.
In 2015, the Minister of Sport admitted that she had been wrong and that she had been misled by Swedish sports administrators, who strongly denied that match-fixing was a problem in the country.
The book tells the story of how match-fixing has become a source of income for organised crime and for some of Sweden’s most notorious gangs. It’s big money and almost no risk. In 2014, a gang of fixers bribed a referee and players in a game in the Division 2 and, according to the police, made more than 3 million SEK (400.000 USD) on live betting. Although the fix was revealed by police these perpetrators weren’t arrested at this time.
The same Swedish fixers were behind a big fix in Norway in 2012 involving at least two games and Swedish and Norwegian players.
Another chapter shows how German police told their Swedish counterparts how a well-known and convicted fixer from the notorious Sapina gang was in contact with a Swedish man and carried pictures from a Swedish football match on his mobile phone. This caused little reaction from Swedish authorities.
Same thing when a 17-year-old boy ran on to the pitch and attacked goalkeeper Aly Keita in the dying minutes of the game between Jönköping and Östersund in the top division, Allsvenskan, and managed to get the game stopped. Informers told the German police about match-fixing, but the case was never investigated by police.
There have only been two court cases regarding match-fixing in Sweden and only four of the 54 reported games have been part of these trials.
Quite early in our investigation in to all these cases we found that police had a problem investigating match-fixing and that there was a gap in the law. You can bring the fixers to court if there are bribes or threats involved, but if players in a team agrees on fixing a game and win a lot of money this is not considered proof of fraud in the eye of the prosecutors.
Our investigation also shows how prosecutors accidently deleted records from phone tapping, which could serve as proof of match-fixing in several football matches.
18 May 2017 is the date when many Swedes non-familiar with match-fixing realised that this is something that takes place even at the highest level of Swedish football. Kenny Stamatopoulos, the goalkeeper of AIK, one of the country’s biggest clubs, reported that he had been contacted by match-fixers ahead of the match against IFK Göteborg. This is one of the most prestigious games in Swedish football. There were threats involved. The Swedish football federation decided to postpone the game and it was played later in the summer. Two men, both former players, one in AIK, are under suspicion of criminal actions. The police investigation is still ongoing.
Later in the season another player in Allsvenskan reported that he too had been approached by fixers ahead of the game between Swedish champions Malmö FF and Halmstads BK.
These were the first two games in the topflight that were reported to the police, but according to our research these were not the first games in Allsvenskan that were fixed. In a recording with a hidden camera, a former player in Allsvenskan, who was suspended from his club because of suspicion of match-fixing, admits to having control over several players in Allsvenskan and second division Superettan. He reveals that they have helped him fix several games.
This story is backed up by a person who is called ‘Alexander’ in the book. ‘Alexander’ speaks about how he was approached and blackmailed by match-fixers. Through his encounter with the fixers, he has learned that several players in Allsvenskan have been involved in fixes, he says.
‘Alexander’ reported his knowledge about the fixers to the police and to the Swedish football federation, but feels he didn’t get the support he wanted.
A passive approach
In our book, we argue that the Swedish football association (SvFF) has been passive for too long. The SvFF secretary general, Håkan Sjöstrand, admits that it took some time before the federation realised the scale of problem, but that it has now taken different measures to stamp out match-fixing. The message to the fixers according to Sjöstrand is: you are not welcome here.
In 2015, The Swedish Sports Confederation (Riksidrottsförbundet) decided to install severe sanctions for match-fixing. Two fixers, who in 2016 were sentenced to jail for match-fixing in a case that involved the division 1-side Kristianstads FF, were later suspended for ten years from all sports in Sweden.
Football is not the only sport in Sweden affected.
In 2012, Swedish basketball was hit by a big scandal when a referee was exposed having manipulated the result in game in Basketligan (the top division) after the final whistle. It was an example of ‘point shaving’ and made some people connected to basketball a lot richer. After a huge investigation by the Basketball federation and the state-owned betting company, Svenska Spel, it was revealed that more referees were involved in a systematic scam that had lasted for many seasons. The referees denied all charges and were cleared by the police but were later denied the possibility to work in Swedish basketball as well as internationally.
The first signs of fixed Swedish basketball games were reported already in 2007 when betting companies suspended betting because of suspicious betting patterns.
In 2007, we too were naïve about match-fixing in Sweden. It was only when listening to Canadian investigative journalist Declan Hill speaking at a Play the Game conference and after reading his book ‘The Fix’ we realised that match-fixers see no borders and the kind of possibilities and challenge that live betting has created.
Sweden is a country known for having a low level of corruption. This shows what can happen if you don’t keep your eyes wide open and take measures to prevent corruption from getting into society. Because match-fixing isn’t only a problem for sports – it’s a problem for society, one could argue.
After having taken a naive approach to the problem of match-fixing, Swedish society seems to have finally woken up. After a lengthy governmental inquiry into the country’s gambling market the government has put forward a new law which will not only open up the monopoly on the gambling, it will also put an end to the gap in the law that has made it difficult for prosecutors to find evidence and bring the match-fixers to trial.
The new law that will probably come in to practise in 2019, will also give the police extended rights when it comes to investigating match-fixing, for example phone tapping.
But there is more to do. Having taken its naive and dismissal stance in 2011 Sweden also decided not to be a part of the Council of Europe’s Convention on match-fixing, which was presented in 2014. Although a new government has continuously said that they will sign the convention this still has not happened.
Overall, we find this to be a very un-Swedish way of approaching international cooperation. The Swedish government should sign the convention. Better late than never. It would be a sign that our country does not turn a blind eye to the problem any longer.