Non League Daily

The Fight Against Match-Fixing

The dark monster of match- fixing has reared its ugly head again, with the front pages of newspapers talking about dawn raids and allegations of spot fixing in lower leagues.

Once upon a time, it would be the big names and the big games where the spotlight would shine. But increasingly, as appetite grows for a variety of betting markets, it is the lower end of the game that is garnering attention.


So, are the criminal syndicates turning their attention to Non League football because it is now too hard to change things in the top flight?


“There are so many markets in football betting that it can be hard to keep control of them,” says Paul O’ Reilly from SportsBettingOnline.net which recently did research to show that there were 308 football games in Europe which were classed as fixed last season, leading to an illegal betting market worth £308million.


“Match-fixing is a leech on the whole punting industry and corruption and bribery of players and officials can make a mockery of the odds that are offered to customers.”


And the football betting market seems to be getting more competitive according to Paul.


“There has been a 600% growth in money spent on TV advertising for football betting in the last year alone and all of the companies know they have to offer more markets to either retain or attract new custom.


“That’s why you get offered red card or corner bets and also why there is such a wide range of leagues available for you to bet on. Also, if you get into the spread betting business, the profit margin can be between 10-13% for a betting company, which is a higher margin than any fixed odds bet would bring them. So the amount and variety of bets you can place is only going to grow whilst more and more betting companies come online.”


And that is why Paul believes the recent switch in attention to the semi-pro games should come as no shock.
“Non League players are more likely to be influenced to change the process of a match because of the sums involved. A top flight professional earning £200k a week is not likely to have his head turned by a brown envelope with £20,000 in. However, that’s probably the annual wage of a semi- pro player so it could be argued that they would be more tempted.”

 

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Pic above: Whitehawk FC players Hakeem Adelakun (L) and Michael Boateng (R) appeared at Birmingham Magistrates Court in December, on charges related to match-fixing


However, the betting industry has learnt through experience how the match-fixing criminals operate. Whilst all of them are at each other’s throats when it comes to offering the best odds, there is an unprecedented amount of entente cordiale when sharing information to catch those profiting from an alleged fix.


“We are part of a European-wide platform which can spot and reports unusual betting patterns very quickly. We know all our markets well and we are able to work together as betting companies to shine a light on potential perpetrators very quickly without giving out too much detail to rivals about our business,” says Mike O’Kane from Ladbrokes, who is the lead on betting corruption issues for the European Sports Security Association.


“As soon as we see something like this, we alert the governing bodies of the sport and the legal authorities in that territory of our suspicions. We offer them the information they need, but work still needs to be done to educate players and officials.


“Corruptors will always go for the path of least resistance, the easiest point of entry for them to be able to affect the market. The FIFPro Black Book highlighted Eastern Europe as a big area of concern a while back, as players were not getting paid and were more likely to accept money to alter match outcomes, so it may not be an issue with individual leagues like a semi-pro league. It may just be a country where there are financial issues with funding the sport.


“And in any case, we know the sort of volumes we get on an average non league game, so would be instantly able to tell if there was a spike in betting interest in that market and act accordingly.”


So, if Non League markets are not gold mines, yet could be more attractive to match fixers, why are betting companies racing to offer odds on them?


“If the UK and European betting firms didn’t offer them, betting companies from other parts of the world outside the jurisdiction of our laws would run them and there would be no control on who was betting in them and what they could do to fix a match. We set a high risk profile on these markets, we are cautious and we work with the authorities to ensure any concerns are dealt with. I don’t know if you would have that security from betting firms at the other side of the world.”


It seems the Skrill Conference is clued up to the unfortunate attention that may be coming their way from betting syndicates.
They have launched a front-facing information campaign with posters warning people about match-fixing placed in the changing rooms of all clubs.


“We work closely with the English FA and the clubs to get that message across. It’s all about giving players the confidence to be themselves and use their own moral compass on this. It’s a simple principle of it is wrong and you as a human being know that however much you are paid as a player,” says Conference General Manager, Dennis Strudwick.


The Scottish Football Association (SFA) have this season brought together all the forces from football north of the border to operate a confidential hotline which they hope will allow anyone in the game to keep their eye out for suspicious behaviour.


“This is very much an example of Scottish football working together in a proactive way,” explained the SFA’s Darryl Broadfoot.

“To have the PFA Scotland, Coaches and Managers Association Scotland, the Scottish Professional Football League, our Referee Operations Department and Crimestoppers together to run our 24/7 hotline should send out a strong message that Scotland is united against match- fixing.”


Their ‘Keep It Clean’ campaign can’t be avoided. Posters adorn dressing rooms, training grounds and, for the first time, administration offices.


“We were keen to ensure that ticket office staff, marketing managers, anyone the most vulnerable and that’s when the assistance of the club chairpersons, chief executives and club secretaries becomes vital. We have recently helped with the formation of the Scottish Lowland Football League and it is part of the campaign’s evolution to offer the service to the Highland and Lowland leagues after the initial phase,” added Darryl.

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Pic above: SFA Chief Executive Stewart Regan (le‹) joins PFA Scotland Chief Executive Fraser Wishart (2nd from le‹), Crimestoppers Commercial Manager Kate Johnston (centre), Coaches and Managers Association Chairman Alex Smith (2nd from right) and SPFL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster as they launch the new Keep it Clean’ security and integrity hotline in conjunction with Crimestoppers.

Betting companies point to the work they have done with authorities in the sports of tennis and cricket to show they are doing their best to highlight the issue to players, officials and fans.

“It is their sport, it is up to them to clean up the behaviour of it,” continued Paul O’Reilly from Sportsbettingonline.com.


“It’s not up to the bookmakers to fund the resolution or education and I believe some football authorities would do no harm in looking at how the ICC and the ITF have grasped this issue and taken a top-down approach to share the message of how to be alert for match-fixing and how to report it. It is not in football’s interest to have this stain hanging around on the sport.


“Tennis players agree to random inspections of their computers and correspondence to see if they have been engaged in illegal betting activity. Maybe football should go down the same road,” Paul suggests.

This article first appeared in fcbusiness magazineWritten by Marc Webber. Pictures courtesy of Action Images.

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