A never-ending battle against match-fixing in sport

WHEN you watch a football match, it's not often - in fact, it's almost inconceivable - to see a team win by a scoreline of 91-0 or 95-0. But these are not just numbers plucked out of thin air, but actual results for 2 matches in Sierra Leone's First Division recently.

The African country's football association, which said it had zero tolerance for match-fixing or any manipulation of that sort, is conducting a thorough investigation into the matter.

This is just one scenario where the authorities step in. There are also other instances that warrant investigation, such as if an overwhelming favourite loses a game by a one-sided scoreline, or when a team is leading 2-0 but still loses the match by conceding 3 very late goals, or if a referee or linesman awards a penalty when there is little reason to.

The message is clear - footballers and match officials from every country and every league need to beware.

Coaches, club officials and spectators (both at the stadium and those watching on TV) are not the only "eyes" watching them perform. There is also a group of experts from a fraud detection group screening their every action and movement so that the matches go ahead with full integrity and without any doubt that there was some kind of interference in the outcome.

Many of these fraud "experts" are employees of Switzerland-based sports data firm Sportradar, which provides integrity services to help protect the global sports industry.

Sportradar's Integrity Services team was set up after an infamous match-fixing case in Germany. The case involved a corrupt referee in a German lower division league match in 2004, and Andreas Krannich, who then worked for the Bundesliga - the top league in the country - was stunned by the episode.

The German economics graduate decided that the sport needed full protection against corruption, and he later joined Sportradar in 2008 as one of its first employees.

Since then, the company, which has more than 3,000 full-time staff in 20 countries including Singapore, has grown to become the market leader in sports betting monitoring through its Universal Fraud Detection System (UFDS), which is utilised by over 150 sports federations, leagues and state authorities across the world.

In an interview with BT Weekend during a recent visit to Singapore, Krannich - now Sportradar's managing director of integrity services, spoke of the complex landscape of the global betting market, which has changed enormously over the years.

"On top of that, match-fixers are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the curve to avoid detection," said the 55-year-old. "It is a constant challenge to ensure this does not occur, and it has been a top priority of ours to ensure that the UFDS keeps pace with these changes to continue to detect all types of suspicious activity, so our partners can take the necessary steps to protect their competitions and stakeholders."

He shared how, based on Sportradar's proprietary data, there was a record number of "suspicious" matches in 2021, with the UFDS detecting 903 cases in 10 different sports in 76 countries. This beat the previous high of 882 matches in 2019.

"Although this is a very small percentage of the total number of matches played globally in sport, and the vast majority of events are free from corruption, our data clearly shows that match-fixing remains a constant and growing threat across the world of sport," said Krannich.

In 2021, 65 sanctions were delivered that had been supported by Sportradar's data and reports. These comprised 58 sanctions handed down against individuals and 7 against clubs.

Krannich suggests preventative measures such as starting education for athletes at a young age, as these measures will be crucial in the never-ending fight against match-fixing and corruption in sports.

Sportradar estimates that the overall global sports betting turnover for 2021 was 1.45 trillion euros (S$2.06 trillion). Football accounted for over half of this number (745 billion euros).

From the 903 suspicious matches detected across global sport last year, it is estimated that around 165 million euros were generated in match-fixing betting profits, not including other potential criminal financial benefits through schemes such as money laundering.

Based on Sportradar's data, football has the highest frequency of suspicious matches at a rate of one in every 201 fixtures. Next is e-sports with one in every 384 fixtures, followed by basketball at a rate of one in 498.

The scourge is also present in the region, including Singapore. Over the years, cases of match-fixing have surfaced at Malaysia Cup matches, the South-east Asian Games and games involving the now-defunct Lions XII football club, with the culprits already taken to task.

Said Krannich: "Although there is good work being done by sporting stakeholders, like the Asian Football Confederation and the Football Association of Singapore, more can be done. We believe in adopting a progressive approach to integrity protection, through bet monitoring and intelligence gathering, which has been proven to help deliver sanctions against those involved in match-fixing."

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