UEFA Takes Action on Match Fixing

EFA has signed an information-sharing agreement with international betting-integrity body ESSA as part of its ongoing campaign to eradicate match-fixing.

“Fifty percent of footballers bet on matches,” said former Manchester City, Celtic, and Burnley player, Joey Barton, adding that betting was “culturally ingrained in the sport”.

Barton, who was banned from football after being found to have placed 1,260 bets on matches over 10 years, was speaking after the ban was reduced on appeal by the English Football Association.

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Barton said, “I think if you found everyone who’d been betting and cracked down on it you’d have half the league out.”

Players in England’s top eight tiers of football are banned from betting on games. The ban extends to club officials such as managers and directors and also applies to referees – much as some fans could see the ref having a bet as the only possible explanation for that penalty…

Betting or fixing?

Barton admitted to betting on some of the games in which he played, but said it was simply betting, not match-fixing. That’s an easy argument to understand: after all, footballers are young men with money – exactly the demographic the never-ending bookmakers’ ads are targeting. And if you know there’s a sickness bug running through the team… well, you’d be silly not to take advantage of it. After all, no-one has inside information like the people in the dressing room.

But there have been high profile instances of players trying to make money by betting on the games they’re playing in, with Southampton legend and now Sky Sports pundit Matt le Tissier admitting his part in a (failed) plot to win £10,000 by deliberately kicking the ball out of play.

UEFA takes action

With modern technology making betting ever more easy – and with bookmakers offering more and more markets on a game – the temptation to fix matches must be overwhelming for some players. After all, players in the lower leagues earn a fraction of the six figures a week plus image rights the top players can command.

European football’s governing body has signed an information-sharing agreement with international betting integrity body ESSA (Sports Betting Integrity) in a move which it hopes will strengthen its campaign to eradicate match-fixing. ESSA’s members include most of Europe’s leading bookmakers, and the agreement will see them monitor and report to UEFA on “suspicious betting patterns”.

UEFA’s president, the Slovenian lawyer Aleksander Ceferin, has made stamping out match-fixing a major priority – but with tens of thousands of matches played in Europe’s leagues each year, even the best fraud detection systems are likely to be running behind the match-fixers and the players willing to cooperate with them.

Are the bookies guilty?

Let’s make one thing clear: to win money by fixing a football match you do not need to fix the result of the game. When you can bet on a red card being shown, a penalty being awarded or the number of corners, there is plenty of scope to “fix” a game without worrying about the final score.

The more markets bookmakers offer, the more temptation there is to cheat, especially when those markets do not influence the result of the game. This has been well-demonstrated in other sports with a match-fixing problem, such as cricket and tennis. After all, I can bet on how many runs are scored off one ball in a test match. Over a 5 day game with the potential for 2,700 balls to be bowled, that is a statistically insignificant event – but still a potentially lucrative one if I’ve paid the bowler to deliver a full toss on the leg stump. Bookmakers want the integrity of the sport to be protected – and then offer a plethora of markets which make cheating and fixing all too easy.

World Cup in jeopardy?

This summer all eyes will be on Russia, with the World Cup kicking off on June 14. Betting turnover will run into billions of pounds, with bookmakers offering numerous markets on every game. Sadly, there are plenty of anecdotal stories about matches being fixed, both in qualifying and at previous World Cup tournaments, especially those games that are a “dead rubber” – for example, when neither side can qualify for the next stage of the tournament.

Gambling is now a worldwide industry – and there will be plenty of footballers playing for the smaller teams who earn less in a year than Ronaldo and Messi earn in a day. It is not just UEFA that will need to be vigilant, it is the whole of world football.

Speaking about the Joey Barton case, former chief executive of the English FA, Adrian Bevington, said: “It is very clear: anyone involved in the game should not be allowed to bet on football.”

If only it were that simple…

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