“We must put an end to fixed football matches”
13 Dec 2017
Betting is becoming more common within the sports industry. It is estimated that approximately one-seventh of the football industry's earnings originate from betting. Meanwhile, evidence of match fixing is tarnishing the industry's reputation. Professor Daniel Thór Ólason, of the University of Iceland, paints an apocalyptic picture of what could happen if the problem is not addressed.
“Match fixing is a financial crime. If spectators, sponsors and the media start to believe that matches are fixed, it may lead to a loss of interest, and in the long-term, that could significantly reduce revenues. It would be the end of football. But that’s the doomsday scenario; things probably won’t go that far.”
Daníel Thór Ólason has a newfound interest in the subject. Last year, he published a study on match fixing in Icelandic football, together with Assistant Professor Hafrún Kristjánsdóttir and doctoral students Kristján G. Óskarsson and Tryggvi Einarsson.
The study asked professional footballers if they engaged in betting, and if so, whether they bet on games in their own division.
The survey showed that most respondents bet on football, and that about 20 per cent also bet on their own matches. This means that it is possible that match fixing is occurring.
“None of the players admitted to having engaged in match fixing, but then again, they know that it’s a crime. We also asked if they knew of teammates who had fixed results in advance, and 1 to 2 per cent said they were aware of such instances,” says Ólason.
In addition, many players refused to respond to the survey altogether. It is also interesting that the professional footballers in Iceland have a clause in their contracts that prohibits them from participating in football-related betting.
“Either they don’t take the ban seriously or they don’t know about the clause,” notes Ólason.
Organised crime is involved
According to Daniel Thór Ólason, investigations indicate that match fixing is a lucrative business for various organised crime syndicates. For example, in Finland, over 20 Veikkausliiga and Ykkönen (the top two divisions) games were manipulated in 2011.
A man from Singapore, with ties to an Asian organised crime syndicate, was behind all of these incidents. Over the years, the syndicate has manipulated hundreds of matches all over the world.
In some instances, individual players accepted bribes; in others, football clubs received money that was used to buy players and other things. The Football Association of Finland is also currently investigating whether two of the Kokkolan Pallo-Veikot football club’s matches, from earlier this fall, were manipulated.
According to Ólason, it is not yet possible to know how widespread the problem is.
“We only know about the cases that have been discovered – we never get wind of the successful instances. But estimates indicate that about one percent of all European matches are fixed in advance.
That figure has been determined by the company, Sportradar, which analyses sports around the world.
Match fixing often involves multiple players
So how does match fixing work? Usually, several players are involved, because this increases the chance of achieving the desired result. The referees have the most power over the final score.
However, it is easier to fix a single event within a match, for example, which team will receive the first throw-in or offside. If the aim is to affect the final score, it is usually necessary to bribe numerous players.
“Betting agents can withdraw a bet if something fishy seems to be going on. In that case, everyone who bet on the match gets their money back,” explains Daniel Thór Ólason.
Organised crime syndicates are most interested in influencing the outcome of matches, because that’s where the most money is.”
“Make examples of them in the media”
Daníel Thór Ólason lists several different ways to eradicate the criminal behaviour. On the one hand, the state should ensure that match fixing is defined as a crime under the criminal justice laws.
Furthermore, sports clubs could be more enterprising and raise awareness of the issue. Ólason proposes that professional athletes’ contracts should include clear rules of conduct and ethical clauses. Sanctions should be strict and public examples should be made of the perpetrators.
“Of course, the associations are actively working to develop programmes to counter this problem. These measures include monitoring and education, if someone engages in match fixing, there must be consequences. But I’m afraid that the clubs are not doing enough,” says Professor Daniel Thór Ólason.
- Daníel Thór Ólason is a professor of psychology at the University of Iceland. His areas of expertise are internet gambling, stress and behavioural addictions.
- Last year, he published the study, “Does match fixing mean the end of popular sports? The special case of football”, together with Dr. Hafrún Kristjánsdóttir and doctoral students Kristján G. Óskarsson and Tryggvi Einarsson.
- The research team is currently planning to carry out a similar study focused on handball and basketball players.
The Nordic Welfare Centre arranged an international conference on gambling, The 1st Gambling Policy Conference: Global Prospects, Nordic Perspectives, in Helsinki on 6-7 November 2017.