PtG Article 27.10.2015

The “Wild West” of the anti-match-fixing industry

Beware of the anti-match fixing industry, fixing expert Declan Hill told Play the Game 2015. Not everyone is working towards the same goal.

Those working against match-fixing should take heed of cycling’s doping scandals, Declan Hill told Play the Game 2015. In the 1990s and beyond, sports federations such as the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) were ostensibly on board in the fight against doping. However, as a damning 2015 report released by the UCI’s Independent Commission for Reform (CIRC) showed, the sport’s reputation and financial interests were afforded a greater priority. The money generated by stars such as Lance Armstrong gave UCI administrators a strong reason to ensure he was not convicted of cheating, the report stated, meaning that the rider and the UCI “colluded to bypass doping accusations”.

No doubt exists, Hill said, that the so-called anti-match-fixing industry can be affected by similar conflicts of interest. While national and international sports associations may claim to be working to prevent match-fixing, their primary interest may be in keeping their organisation’s “good name” intact. Furthermore, he said, sports administrators are often the fixers themselves. The anti-match-fixing industry is entering a “wild west” era, Hill said, where sports administrators could actively hamper investigations.

To demonstrate his point, Hill showed Play the Game 2015 delegates footage from a hidden video camera showing football officials admitting to match-fixing and implicating those higher on the administrative ladder. “Forget about mafias entering sport” he said. “The fixers are already there.”

Suspicious betting patterns

Alex Inglot, Communications Director at the gambling data and security company Sportradar, said that match-fixing had undergone a radical revolution in tandem with mainstream betting. While match-fixing is not new, he told Play the Game 2015, the liberalisation of the global gambling industry has presented greater opportunities for the fixers. Online betting, live streaming, and an explosion in data availability and betting formats have all served to increase gambling’s popularity. However, he pointed out, fixing a single aspect of a game is often far easier than fixing the final result.

Sportradar, Inglot said, processes real time odds on sporting fixtures in eleven sports, including the top two football leagues in each UEFA nation. Betting information is obtained from 450 regulated and unregulated bookmakers, he said, including those based in Asia, and alerts are generated when suspicious odds and market movements are detected. Numerous alerts are generated, he said, most of which turn out to be false. All, however, are investigated, and those that cannot be explained are reported as highly suspicious.

While many point to unlicensed Asian bookmakers as being at the root of the problem, he said, the bookies themselves are rarely complicit in match-fixing. Their existence caters to market demand, he said, and the rise of unlicensed companies is partly due to the refusal of licensed bookmakers to accept the accounts of high-stakes gamblers or regular winners.

“A lot of legitimate or big money is being pushed out of the legitimate market,” Inglot said. “The Asian betting market is not there to serve fixers. They don’t want them there as much as anyone else.”

Sports organisations have limited power in sanctioning match-fixers that are not otherwise involved in sport, Inglot said. They can, for example, ban match-fixers from stadiums, but such action is unlikely to be a deterrent. The problem needs to be tackled by law enforcement authorities with jurisdictional reach beyond the sports arenas, he said.

Dead games

Leandro Shara is the founder of MatchVision, a company that designs tailor-made sports tournament formats. In a presentation to Play the Game 2015 he suggested that match-fixing could be reduced if so-called “dead” games, where one or both teams have nothing to play for in the group stage of a tournament, were abolished. A potential future format for a major football tournament, he said, would place teams in small pots of three, with their final standings being reflected in an overall league table before a knockout stage.

Nicholas Cheviron, a supervisor and special agent with the FBI who oversees sports bribery and match-fixing investigations, told Play the Game 2015 that the match-fixing was a greater problem in Asia and Europe than it was in the USA. His nation had far fewer professional leagues, he pointed out, and professional athletes were generally better-paid.

However, he added that college games sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) are far less lucrative for players and thus more prone to fixing. Despite the fact that NCAA rules bar students from gambling or providing information to gamblers, he said a huge number of students admit to placing bets. A recent survey found that 57 percent of male college students admitted to gambling, he said, and the real figure could be even higher.

The fact that gambling is illegal in most US states means that a huge illegal gambling market exists, Cheviron continued. Thousands of gambling websites generate millions of dollars for organised crime. However, that federal charges can be filed for sports bribery lets the FBI’s investigations extend to match-fixing. Match-fixing revelations often stem from investigations into illegal sports betting, he said.Stanislas Frossard, Executive Secretary at the Council of Europe (COE) described the contents of the new COE Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions. Currently, he pointed out, most nations do not have specific laws related to match-fixing. Known as the Macolin Convention, the new treaty offers signatory nations a legally-binding tool to commit lawmakers to the fight against match-fixing and all types of manipulation.

The convention calls for increased co-operation between governments, sports organisations and the gambling industry, including a commitment to share information in areas such as the types of bets offered. It also calls for the enforcement of traceable payment methods, and the introductions of criminal sanctions. In order to be effective, he said, the convention would need the co-operation of both sports organisations and bookmakers. The text is available on the COE website.