Monitoring sport against corruption is a full-time job. How many sporting fixtures take place over the course of a year? Deloitte reports that in the UK alone, more than 70 million tickets to sporting events were sold during 2015 – more than one ticket for every person. That is just professional sport – it doesn’t count reserve games, amateur sport and other ticketless events. However, as has been consistently highlighted by those involved in anti-corruption initiatives in sport, it is not just the fixtures that need monitoring, but also the people involved in them.
As background, I thought it would be interesting to take one sport, and attempt to work out how many people are involved. I chose football, arguably the world’s most popular sport, and used conservative estimations. I calculated that there are likely to be at least 9,300 professional football clubs in the world.
Women’s football is a growing area, and one that match-fixers are targeting. At a conservative estimation, there are 300 women’s football teams. Add reserve and youth teams, and the numbers multiply again to over 20,000 clubs. Again using a conservative estimation (i.e. 15 players per team), we are looking at over 300,000 people involved in football.
For the majority of clubs and teams that we have discussed, somebody, somewhere will be offering betting odds on the outcome of their fixtures. That means that sports integrity regulators must keep track of over 300,000 people – and that is just in football.
Football is only one sport – a difficult one to fix at that. The numbers involved are important. There are only 128 professionals on the world snooker circuit. The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the trade union for professional footballers in England and Wales alone, has over 4,000 members. This makes delivering anti-match-fixing education more of a challenge in football than in snooker, for example.
Football and sport are now a business. The FA Premier League has become truly global in nature (it currently has broadcasting deals in 212 territories, giving it a potential cumulative audience of 4.7 billion). However, this global reach also means that sports betting is no longer confined to the country in which a professional league resides. At the same time, the internet has allowed both online and offline betting to become more sophisticated, as sports betting operators can learn from their peers how to offer more innovative and complicated bets.
When looking at the potential numbers involved in football betting, I came across a number of different bets that could be placed on 10 July, in football’s ‘off-season’.
• Ecuadorian youth football • Russian women’s league • Victorian Premier League (Australia) • Brazil Serie D • FC Ypa vs FC Santa Claus (Finland) • Private betting groups on Facebook & Twitter…
Many more bets are available during the football season. Stuart Page, ICSS Director of International Policy & Anti-Corruption, told me that on a trip to Tanzania, he was astonished that he could go into a shop and place bets on Australian rugby league. He asked if anyone had actually seen the NRL – no, but we bet on it, the answer came.
However the global reach that allowed Page to bet on Australian rugby league in Tanzania has also connected humans better than ever before. It is now possible to trace somebody’s history through their social media accounts, which will reveal where they have been and who they have been with, as will phone records. This can turn up some surprising results.
There are some limits to this. New methods of communication are evolving all the time. You have probably heard of WhatsApp, Instagram, Periscope, SecondLife, Vine, Facebook messenger, BeBo, FaceTime…the list goes on. There is also the sceptre of the dark web now as well. Those policing against match-fixing are required to keep pace with all of this…it is not just about monitoring Twitter and Facebook…
For example, I understand that rather than send emails, match-fixers now get around the monitoring systems by setting up a google account and saving messages in the drafts folder. They then share the login details. As the message has never been sent, then traditional communications monitoring fails.
Size of market
The gross gaming revenue (GGR) of the regulated sports betting market was estimated at US$58 billion in 2012 and is forecast to reach US$70 billion in 2016. In 2013 at aWorld Sports Law Report conference, Ladbrokes, one of Great Britain’s largest regulated operators, pointed out that it is one tenth the size of the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC), and that the HKJC is one tenth the size of the illegal Chinese gambling market. Between US$250 million and $1 billion is staked on the outcome of every Indian Premier League cricket match, and US$2 billion on India v. Pakistan cricket internationals through the illegal market.
In the December 2014 ICSS/Sarbonne report, ‘Fighting Against the Manipulation of Sports Competitions’, Professor Laurent Vidal estimated the size of the illegal industry at between $750 billion and $1 trillion. “The sports betting industry is estimated to be up to about US$1 trillion” Stuart Page told me last year. “That represents the regulated market. The black market is estimated at about US$500 billion – about half of the size of the regulated market.
Both Vidal and Page were working for the same organisation. That’s not to knock the ICSS, but the fact is that nobody really knows the size of the illegal Asian market. This is because it is largely cash based and loosely-structured. And yes, it’s illegal. This often means that there is no paper trail and we only hear about it when it intersects with the regulated market.
Integrity bodies often monitor the betting markets to detect a fix. This is still the most reliable way to detect a fix, as what happens has to happen on a betting market. Regulatory authorities are becoming more confident that a conviction can be upheld based on such patterns. I understand that Albanian club FC Skenderbeu was involved in fixing 73 clubs over four or five years, and suspicious alerts had been sent to UEFA over four or five years. CAS has recently dismissed the club’s appeal against its sanction, and I understand from those involved in the case that it felt the evidence – which largely came from Sportradar’s analysis of the betting patterns – was strong enough to uphold the conviction.
This method was used to convict five Nepali footballers last year, where additional information, again provided by Sportradar’s Integrity Services, was used to arrest Singapore nationals in Moldova who had connections to the Nepali fixers.
These monitoring systems are being bolstered by investigatory units, which sports integrity organisations such as Sportradar are setting up in house in order to cross the threshold that sports authorities and criminal prosecutors need to bring an investigation forward. The idea is to process intelligence that highlights the connections between the foot soldiers – which the monitoring system will identify – and the organisers of the fix. This was previously left to sports organisations or the police, however they often have other priorities. By taking the information they can provide a level further, sports integrity companies hope that sports organisations and criminal organisations will take more cases forward towards a prosecutor.
It appears that – at the moment – spot fixing is not as much of a threat as it could be, due to limited liquidity in the market. In 2015, a study was produced by the Asser Institute of Sports Law for the German Olympic committee (DOSB), entitled The Odds of Match-Fixing – Facts & Figures on the Integrity Risk of Certain Sports Bets. It found that there is no proven link that in-play or spot betting makes a sport more susceptible to match-fixing. This is because large volumes of bets in a limited market are suspicious and expose the traders to risk.
However, this doesn’t mean that the risk isn’t there – only that the in-play and spot-betting markets are currently so small that any attempt to fix would set the ‘suspicious betting pattern’ radars off at sports integrity monitoring companies. As Nigel Mawer of World Snooker has told The Sports Integrity Initiative before: “In a two person competition the odds are not so good unless you go into the handicap betting markets, such as exact score or number of frames played in a match. If you put a lot of money into these illiquid markets it will stand out and cause questions to be asked.”
The problem with football is you can put a significant amount of money into the market which will give you a good return, where it won’t look unusual. This is what Wilson Raj Perumal attempted to do in the lower divisions of Australian football.
Control of clubs and players in football appears to be a particular problem. Last year, FIFA warned against a new approach being used by match-fixers, who are posing as sponsors and investors in order to influence players and coaches. “Fixers are not using sponsors, but are acting as sponsors and investors based on false promises, sometimes even using false identities, business cards and companies”, a spokesperson told The Sports Integrity Initiative. “Such fixers offer money and sometimes even players and coaches to given clubs, thus enabling them to gain control on the pitch”.
This is actually happening now. In May, Portuguese police & Europol dismantled a transnational crime group composed of Russian mafia who laundered money by assuming control of European football clubs in financial distress. They did this to launder money through match-fixing.
Wilson Raj Perumal
This is also one of the methods used by Wilson Raj Perumal. He was behind fixing in the lower English leagues in 2013, exported corrupt players to Australia for the Southern Stars case in 2013, and may have fixed further games there in 2014. Has also been sentenced for match-fixing in Finland, questioned by Hungarian police and potentially involved in the 2013 Europol Operation VETO investigation, in which match-fixers were found to have made €8m by fixing up to 380 games in 15 countries. This year, it was also revealed that he has infiltrated Dutch football. Ibrahim Kargbo, who played for the club Willem II, had a meting with Perumal about the loss of Willem II in a match against FC Utrecht.
Read the FULL Article at: Alternative & complimentary approaches to combating match-fixing | Sports Integrity Initiative