A recent study has found that soccer friendly games are at a greater risk of match-fixing than competitive matches. The report, published on Wednesday, looked at games that took place between 2016 and 2020. Over the course of the study, investigators found suspicious activity in over 250 friendlies in which European teams were taking part.
The European Commission Erasmus+ program funded the ‘Combatting Match Fixing in Club Football Non-Competitive Friendlies’ study, which was led by the University of Nicosia Research Foundation. During the course of this study, the group surveyed about 700 players in Malta, Greece, and Cyprus.
26.5% believed that a club friendly they played in had potentially been subject to manipulation
Of the survey responders, 26.5% believed that a club friendly they played in had potentially been subject to manipulation. The report also highlighted that over a quarter of the attempts to fix friendly games came from club officials, with players accounting for 15% of these attempts.
Potential blind spots
The lead investigator in this study was University of Nicosia president of the council and professor Nicos Kartakoullis. He spoke about how a combination of a lack of oversight, information, and regulation makes it easier to fix friendly games rather than competitive fixtures. He said: “This research shows that in terms of governance, friendly matches need to be considered just like competitive matches.”
Kartakoullis believes that since data for 4,000 friendly games each year is offered to operators for betting purposes, it is vital that the betting companies using it are well-regulated and report any suspicious betting activity.
soccer federations have been slow to determine who is responsible for the governance of friendlies
The report notes that national and international soccer federations have been slow to determine who is responsible for the governance of friendlies, especially when the clubs are from different nations and the game is taking place in a third country. The report stated that certain European soccer federations do not keep a track of where soccer clubs go during the likes of pre-season tours. Coupled with the lack of oversight is the wide availability of betting markets for these friendly matches, which means that there is an increased risk of manipulation taking place.
The report also highlighted that there is a potential blind spot when it comes to integrity monitoring systems because friendlies are often not a part of official data agreements involving tournament organizers and data providers. Therefore, unregulated operators often get access to data for friendlies, with these types of platforms not being part of integrity monitoring systems.
Recommendations from the report
The report has made a number of recommendations. One of the main recommendations is that UEFA, the governing body for European soccer, makes sure that each of its 55 member associations properly regulate friendly fixtures. It also calls for match agents to no longer be able to be part of the ownership or the operations of a club.
The report also calls for the creation of a new body that would act as a representative for match agents when it comes to negotiations in the future regarding regulation with organizations such as FIFA and UEFA. Finally, the report suggests the formation of new data standards which would put a stop to unregulated or poorly regulated operators being able to access live match data.