Soccer is the world’s most popular sport and attracts more attention and interest than any other sport. File image.
Soccer is the world’s most popular sport and attracts more attention and interest than any other sport. File image.

Soccer is the most targeted sport by match-fixers, says global sports technology company Sportradar

By Sameer Naik Time of article published Oct 23, 2021

Share this article:

Johannesburg - Match-fixing in sports fixtures around the world continues to surge during the Covid-19 pandemic, with Africa being widely affected.

Sportradar Integrity Services, a leading global sports integrity solutions supplier and partner of more than 100 sports federations and leagues, has detected more than 1 100 suspicious sports matches since the start of the global pandemic in April 2020 using their Universal Fraud Detection System (UFDS), with 655 of those matches detected in the first nine months of 2021.

According to Sportradar, soccer is the sport most at risk of betting-related corruption with more than 500 suspicious matches detected in 2021 to date.

Approximately 40% of the suspicious activities reported within domestic soccer competitions come from third-tier leagues and below, including youth level, as fixers increase their attention to lower-level matches.

On a global level, the UFDS detected 382 suspicious matches in Europe so far this year, with Latin America recording 115 suspicious matches in the same period. That’s followed by the Asia Pacific region with 74, Africa with 43, 10 in the Middle East, and nine in North America since the start of January 2021.

While Sportradar could not reveal whether South Africa is one of the countries affected in Africa, the organisation says the problem is rife in Africa.

“Across all sports, we detected 43 suspicious matches in nine African countries in 2021,” said Andreas Krannich, managing director of Integrity Services for Sportradar AG.

“Over recent years, there have been a number of documented issues in Africa, including match-fixing investigations in Ghanian and Tunisian soccer and sanctions involving Kenyan and Ugandan soccer players being banned.”

Krannich says the number could possibly be much higher as they do not monitor all sporting events in Africa.

“We can only report on what we detect, and we can only detect suspicious activity if asked to do so by a sporting body.”

Andreas Krannich, managing director of Integrity Services for Sportradar AG. Supplied image.

He said they do however work closely with a number of sports federations in South Africa.

“In South Africa, we already work with major organisations such as Fifa and CAF in football, the ITF in Tennis, and World Rugby in providing bet monitoring for sporting events held in South Africa.”

Krannich said soccer remains the most targeted sport by match fixers.

“Soccer is the world’s most popular sport, it attracts more attention and interest than any other sport, and this popularity translates into global betting markets, where soccer is by far the number one sport for betting, and where there is a robust betting infrastructure in place.

“This is particularly so in terms of the Asian betting market, where hundreds of billions of euros are wagered every year. Among team sports, there are by far more soccer matches offered for betting than other sport, so there is a lot more opportunity for match-fixers to identify teams and competitions that may be susceptible to their approaches, perhaps due to financial issues for instance.

“These factors combine to elevate the risk of many soccer competitions. Historically, on a global level, match-fixing has mainly affected the top levels of domestic soccer competitions, and most prominently the second tiers. As there are highly liquid betting markets for second-tier matches in Asia, the monetary bribes which match-fixers can afford to offer – relative to second-tier salaries – can be alluring to players, staff and match officials alike.”

He added that as the global betting market marketplace continues to grow, the third tier of soccer and below has now become relevant enough for match-fixers to view it as an attractive target for the exact same reasons, and this is reflected in the suspicious match numbers over the past 18 months.

While soccer is the most targeted sport by match-fixers, several other sports are also being targeted.

Pakistani fast bowler Mohammad Asif, 28, arrives at the Southwark court in London, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. Jurors resumed Monday deliberating in the trial of Asif , and ormer Test captain Salman Butt, the two Pakistan cricketers accused of match-fixing. They are both charged with conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

This includes esports, which has risen to popularity in the last few years and has made it a target for fixers. This has led to a rapid increase in the number of suspicious matches reported.

Over 70 suspicious esports matches have been detected by the UFDS since April last year across five different game titles, with more than 40 of those suspicious matches identified since January this year.

Other sports include tennis, basketball, table tennis, ice hockey, cricket as well as volleyball, handball, and beach volleyball.

Krannich said the rise in match-fixing in sport is alarming.

“We have witnessed a growth in match-fixing over this time, and it is now a truly global issue. The impact of the pandemic was always likely to exacerbate the problem. The data clearly shows us that match-fixing is one of the biggest threats to global sport, and will remain so in the years ahead.

“It is the scale and global nature of the match-fixing issue which is alarming. We should appreciate just how much organised sport is taking place across the globe now. On an annual basis we see several hundreds of thousands of matches offered by betting operators, and detected cases of match-fixing do only account for less than 0.5% of sporting events.”

He said this context shows that the overwhelming majority of sports events that fans are sitting down to enjoy are clean from betting-related corruption.

“From the more than 1 100 suspicious matches we have detected in the last 18 months, each individual case represents a blow to clean sport and represents a serious threat to the competition it involves.”

Krannich added that match-fixing has also evolved over the years with fixers now using technology to their advantage.

“Over recent years, we have seen that technology is increasingly being utilised by match-fixers.

“One part of this is a growth in digital approaches to athletes, coaches, and even match officials, often through social media, with users messaging athletes directly to try and engage them in betting fraud.

“The ease of access to athletes is greater than it’s ever been; and these platforms are breaking down the barriers previously in place between athletes and fans, but also those with bad or even criminal intentions.

“Thankfully, many of these approaches are reported by the athletes to this governing bodies, but some approaches have ultimately been successful.”

Hansie Cronje at the King Commission of Inquiry investigating cricket match-fixing. Picture by Roger Sedres.

Krannich added that there are a number of steps sports federations can take to combat match-fixing.

“Firstly, bet monitoring is essential. Through the monitoring of betting activity using a proven system like the UFDS, suspicious betting can be highlighted, and credible judgements can be made regarding whether or not a match was manipulated.

“Secondly, is to recognise the need for education: for recognising, refusing, and reporting approaches made to players and staff.

“Thirdly, it is important for sports organisations to invest resources in due diligence – This means proactively monitoring or conducting basic checks on companies or individuals (investors, players, coaches) in their jurisdiction, and identifying red flags before they are able to evolve into a full match-fixing disease.

“There are many other steps that can be taken to bolster integrity protections, yet the three proactive measures listed above can ensure a very strong integrity backbone is in place which can detect, fight and help to repel match-fixing risks.”

The Saturday Star

Share this article: