Sport is facing a massive spread of match-fixing cancer during the Covid-19 era, researchers have said, with fixers diversifying into new areas and targeting particularly vulnerable teams, players and officials.
Experts at Sports radarseen by FIFA as the world leader in match manipulation detection, followed more than 600,000 matches in 26 sports in 2020 and saw a surge in suspicious betting activity in friendly football matches despite fewer matches being played during the pandemic and solving various other sports such as table tennis, esports and volleyball.
As the amount of sport collapsed in 2020 due to Covid-19, we discovered a massive spread of match-fixing cancer, said Andreas Krannich, the general manager of Sportradars Integrity Services. In the past, match fixers have focused on those sports and leagues where the profits and sales are greatest, such as football, tennis and basketball. But now they are diversified.
What the fixers quickly understood is that many sports are now suffering financially from Covid-19. And where there is much less money, players, referees, coaches, presidents are becoming more and more vulnerable. We’ve even seen match fixers take over entire clubs, bring in some of their own staff and start manipulating them.
It is clear that football teams from Russia, Brazil, Vietnam, the Czech Republic and Armenia regularly participate in suspicious friendlies, which have increased from 38 in 2019 to 62 in 2020. One trend is that fixers are targeting matches at foreign training camps in winter and summer. breaks, where corrupt players and match officials can often leave the country before investigators can question them.
According to Sportradar, which works with 26 sports organizations, including FIFA, the most recent case occurred in the past fourteen days in a friendly match in Europe where a referee is suspected of manipulating the match to ensure that the first half at least two goals were scored.
There was also a surge in suspicious activity in table tennis, which rose from one escalated match in 2019 to 20 in 2020, and in esports, which rose from three suspicious matches in 2019 to 39 last year. Meanwhile, in Thailand alone, there were 17 basketball games in 2020 that are suspected of being resolved.
In total, Sportradars systems flagged 526 highly suspicious games across the sport last year, compared to 661 in 2019. However, Krannich said the number of fixed games had risen in percentage by 2020 with new sports, new leagues and new federations successfully running.
We have extremely good networks in making books around the world, as well as informants from law enforcement, the police and the world of match-fixing, he said. And what they told us was that match fixers were running out of money and they were like, okay, how can we make up for that? How can we profit from this situation? And what they have done has diversified. We’ve seen sports that were previously thought of as add-ons become more targets of fixers.
Krannich also said Sportradar would make its Universal Fraud Detection System (UFDS) free to all sports organizations for the first time starting October to help them better detect any issues.
This would be like a burglar alarm, provided forever free of charge, to alert our sports partners to suspicious matches, he said. Since 2009, we have found more than 5,300 manipulated matches in different sports. And when we say matches are being manipulated, we are 110% sure. We can’t afford a false positive, and we’ve never had one, meaning this is the tip of the real numbers iceberg.
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