By Anand Vasu
Friendly soccer matches, and matches in table tennis esports and volleyball are the latest events to be targeted by match fixers, sports integrity data company SportRadar said.
The Switzerland based firm, which is the official data provider to the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and also the integrity services provider to world soccer governing body FIFA, said that match fixers were diversifying and that there has been a massive spread in the cancer of match-fixing.
The financial fallout of the pandemic left players, referees, coaches and presidents increasingly vulnerable.
The number of highly suspicious games flagged by Sportradar’s systems in 2020 was 526 down from 661 in the previous year, but given that most sporting fixtures were canceled in 2020, the figure represented a dramatic rise in potential corruption.
Soccer teams based in Russia, Brazil, Vietnam, Czech Republic, and Armenia featured repeatedly in suspicious friendly matches. The most recent incident was only two weeks ago during a friendly in Europe, where the referee is suspected of manipulating play to ensure that at least two goals were scored in the first half.
In March 2020, as elite global sports were canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, gambler focus turned to the few sports that were still running. These included table tennis in Russia and the Ukraine. In 2019, just one table tennis match was flagged as suspicious by Sportradar. But there were 20 in 2020.
“In the past, match-fixers have targeted those sports and leagues where the profit and turnover are biggest, such as football [soccer], tennis, and basketball. But now they have diversified,” Andreas Krannich, the managing director of Sportradar’s Integrity Services, said. “What the fixers quickly understood is that a lot of sports are now suffering financially as a consequence of Covid-19. And where there is far less money, players, referees, coaches, presidents are increasingly vulnerable.”
Krannich added that sports that enjoyed a smaller audience or in-ground viewership were previously largely ignored by corruptors. These were now targets. “We have extremely good networks in bookmaking around the world, as well as informants from law enforcement, the police, and the match-fixing world,” Krannich said. “And what they were telling us was that match-fixers were running out of money and they were thinking: ‘OK, how can we compensate? How can we make profit out of this situation?’ And what they have done … they’ve diversified,” he added. “We have seen sports that were previously seen as an add-on become more targeted by fixers.”
Sportradar works closely with 80-plus sporting federations globally. Last year, it analyzed 600,000 matches across 26 sports.