The financial pressures of the coronavirus pandemic are leaving many sports vulnerable to match-fixing, according to a report by Sportradar.
The Switzerland-based sports data provider said that 2020 had seen a steep rise in suspicious betting patterns in friendly soccer matches, as well as fringe sports like table tennis, esports, and volleyball.
Sportradar is the official data provider to the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and others. It provides integrity services to world soccer governing body FIFA and works closely with 80 other sporting federations around the world. Last year, it analyzed 600,000 matches across 26 sports.
The picture was concerning. Andreas Krannich, the managing director of Sportradar’s Integrity Services, said that match- fixers are “diversifying,” and there has been a “massive spread in the cancer of match-fixing.”
“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,” Krannich 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.”
The number of highly suspicious games flagged by Sportradar’s systems last year, 526, was actually down on 2019’s 661. But when you consider that most sports were canceled in 2020, the figure represents a dramatic increase, with new sports, new leagues, and few federations all targeted.
According to the report, soccer teams based in Russia, Brazil, Vietnam, Czech Republic, and Armenia frequently featured in suspicious friendly matches. The most recent incident occurred in the past two weeks during a friendly in Europe, where the referee is suspected of manipulating the match to ensure at least two goals were scored in the first half.
In March 2020, as elite global sports were canceled because of the 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.
“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.”