Gambling regulators and operators have warned that this summer’s soccer World Cup in Russia could be vulnerable to match-fixing.

World Cup match-fixing

Referee Joseph Lamptey fends off protests from Senegalese soccer players after he awarded a penalty for a non-existent handball to opponent South Africa in a 2016 World Cup qualifier. Last year, he was banned for life for match-fixing. (Image: GH Headlines)

Representatives of various sporting and gambling bodies met at last week’s Betting on Football conference at Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge stadium to discuss the forthcoming tournament and the potential integrity challenges it faces.

Received wisdom suggests that match-fixers avoid the big stage, preferring to operate in soccer’s lower leagues, where their machinations are less likely to be detected, and where players are more corruptible because they are poorer.

But the World Cup is the biggest betting event in the world – by a huge margin – and to believe the tournament is immune to match-fixing because of its enormous global profile amounts to dangerous complacency, experts warned.

Warning: Some Nation’s Soccer Players Are Not Rich

Gilles Maillet, sport integrity director of La Francaise des Jeux (FDJ), operator of the French national lottery, said that it is, in fact, precisely the sheer scale of the World Cup that can make it tougher to detect corruption.

“It is very clear and a point worth making that many people think most fixers focus on low-level competitions because it is easier to fix and involves less expense to them,” he said.

“On the other hand, with the amount of transactions you have at large events it can be more difficult to detect the fix, which can be hidden behind the large amounts of money that are bet.”

Jake Marsh, head of integrity at digital media group Perform, noted that the perception that soccer players are paid wild amounts of money can be false in some instances. He said that after a friendly game between two international teams last year, the visiting team was unable to pay its hotel bill.

According to Marsh, some World Cup qualifying games have been proven to have been fixed, so why not the main event itself?

Ghanaian Referee Banned For World Cup Match-Fixing

A November 2016 qualifier between South Africa and Senegal was ordered to be replayed after the Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey awarded a penalty to South Africa for a non-existent handball.

In March, FIFA banned Lamptey for life for “unlawfully influencing match results,” a decision that was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in September.

FIFA monitors games using “Early Warning System” (EWS) technology, which analyzes global betting markets with the cooperation of betting firms around the world. Betting companies share suspicious patterns with EWS via a secure communications platform, while the system maintains a flow of information with traders, compliance officers and risk managers.

But the takeaway from the conference was loud and clear: stay vigilant.