Soccer Match-Fixing on the Slide Globally, New Analysis Suggests

Posted on: October 18, 2021, 11:30h. 

Last updated on: October 18, 2021, 11:52h.

The number of soccer matches under suspicion of match-fixing fell in 2020, despite concerns that the financial pressures of COVID-19 might exacerbate the problem.

Far from fueling match-fixing in soccer, the pandemic appears to have thrown up some challenges of its own for corrupting gambling syndicates. (Image: Guardian)

According to new betting market analysis from sports integrity firms Stats Perform and Starlizard, 217 (0.35 percent) of 61,296 games across the world were flagged as suspicious last year. While fewer games were played because of the pandemic, the figures represent a reduction in both real and percentage terms from the 456 (0.56 percent) matches in last year’s report.

The two companies’ figures across the past three years suggest that soccer match-fixing has been on the wane for a while. Suspicious games have dropped more than 50 percent since their first report from 2018.

There was speculation the pandemic would provide an opportunity for fixers. As it exerted its financial squeeze on sports, the theory was it would render players, referees, coaches, and team presidents more susceptible to corruption.

Fixers in a Fix

But the study appears to corroborate a recent claim by Benoit Pasquier, general counsel and director of legal affairs for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). He told Reuters last year that while the illegal gambling market in Asia was bigger than ever, the tide was turning against the fixers.

According to Pasquier, match-fixing used to be controlled by a small number of large crime syndicates, many of which have been broken up by law enforcement agencies.

With key figures being imprisoned or disrupted, and very high-profile cases being discussed in the media, match-fixing over the last five years has become much more fragmented,” said Pasquier. “There are now more ‘lone wolves’, with local gangs and syndicates more common.”

But Stats Perform and Starlizard suggest that, far from fueling match-fixing, the pandemic presented these lone wolves with difficult new challenges.

“We have seen in previous reports how the number of suspicious matches in a country can quickly increase once those looking to manipulate [soccer] matches for financial gain establish a foothold,” wrote the authors.

“However, there would have been increased challenges for a match-fixing organization to assert itself in a country in 2020, given the sudden and unexpected way in which COVID-19 shifted the betting focus on to this small number of countries, as well as in light of the logistical problems caused by travel during the pandemic.”

Africa Overtakes Asia

Once fertile ground for fixers, just 0.41 percent of all Asian matches analyzed in 2020 were identified as suspicious, a third of the 2019 proportion. Europe was also down by more than half from 2019.

Of all continents, Africa had the highest number of suspicious games, overtaking Asia for the first time. However, six of the continent’s seven suspicious games were played in the same country, which the report declines to name. Even here, there was a significant reduction from the 20 games identified in the same country in 2019.

The only continent to experience an increase was North America, including Central America, although, at 0.26 percent, this was still significantly below the global average.

The report also said that match-fixing at the highest levels of the game globally was practically non-existent.

“The long-term effects of COVID-19 on sports integrity are yet to be seen, and whilst the decrease in suspicious matches this year is most certainly welcome, it is too early to say whether this will continue to be an ongoing trend, or whether it has been caused by a truly exceptional set of circumstances,” the report concluded.