PtG Article 29.10.2013

Match-fixing: Small risks, enormous rewards

Football matches are fixed on a regular basis by criminals, an EU law enforcement official told Play the Game this morning, because for them it makes economic sense. While the rewards are often great for the fixers, Nick Garlick, a Senior Specialist at Europol’s Organised Crime Networks, said that a broad network of agents and middle men help shield them from the law.

Globalization, the growth of the Chinese economy, and the Asian betting culture are all factors that have triggered an increase in match-fixing, he said.

While the value of the global sports betting market is enormous – the Hong Kong Jockey Club has estimated it could worth four billion US dollars per day – Garlick was unable to guess what fraction of that sum was bet on fixed matches. However, he was able to put a figure on bribes: up to 100,000 Euro could be used to fix a single football match, he said.

A successfully-fixed match often did always result in detectable betting patterns, Garlick said, as bets were typically divided between numerous bookmakers. At other times, abnormal betting patterns were detected but no action was taken.

At one point Billericay Town, a soccer club playing in the sixth tier of English football, was attracting more bets than FC Barcelona, he pointed out, but no criminal action resulted.

The fixers employ a network of middle-men including highly skilled linguists who travel the globe making contact with players and officials, he said. Often, the least-professional members of the conspiracy were the players themselves.

“The players are not criminal masterminds and are not particularly good at covering up what they are doing” he said.

While the problem was undoubtedly a serious one, Garlick added that one  positive development was a much greater awareness of the issue both in the sports community and generally.

Richard H. McLaren, a lawyer and arbitrator at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), gave an overview of how his organisation was approaching  match-fixing. The gateway to the problem was “gambling by primary actors,” he said. That is, players, managers and associates betting on their own sport.

In such cases, he said, CAS was less willing to show deference as the practice was seen as a gateway to so-called spot betting, or the manipulation of specific aspects of a game.

Although some saw spot betting as a less severe type of match-fixing, he said, it was the second step of the slippery slope towards full-blown match-fixing.

Harri Syväsalmi, the Chairman of the Council of Europe’s Expert Group on Match Fixing, told Play the Game that the Council of Europe was in the process of drafting a new international convention designed to combat fixing and manipulation in sport. The drafting process involved a large number of stakeholders, he said, including INTERPOL, FIFA and UEFA.

The process was not restricted to EU nations, he said, and Japan, Australia and Canada were among the nations that were actively involved. Syväsalmi, who is also Director at Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture, said that the proposed convention would involve the formation of national platforms designed to address the issue and national contact points bringing together all those with an interest in preventing match fixing.

Niels-Christian Levin Hansen, Executive Board member of Denmark’s National Olympic Committee and the Sports Confederation of Denmark (DIF) said that DIF had recently adopted new regulations that not only outlaw the manipulation of sports competition for financial advantage, but also prohibit the abuse of inside information and ban players, coaches and associates from betting on their own sport.

The new rules also include an obligation for witnesses to report suspicious activities, he said.