Sunday 20 August 2017

Low-profile game played out in front of 400 supporters attracts international attention

In 2009, European football’s governing body was thrust into what it described as the ‘biggest match fixing scandal to ever hit Europe’. Stock picture
In 2009, European football’s governing body was thrust into what it described as the ‘biggest match fixing scandal to ever hit Europe’. Stock picture
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The range of markets available for betting on football have presented the global authorities with a problem - and it was inevitable that it would spread to Ireland.

A week after Joey Barton's football career was effectively ended by his own gambling indiscretions, the investigation into Athlone Town has shone a light on a much bigger problem for the game.

That is the sheer volume of gambling that is taking place worldwide on matches taking place in different jurisdictions.

The fact that a low-profile League of Ireland First Division game between Athlone Town and Longford Town taking place in front of just over 400 spectators has attracted attention because of movement in international markets drills home that point.

Punting on low-level games has been the focus of Uefa's attempt to crack down on the integrity of the sport being brought into question by irregular betting patterns.

In 2009, European football's governing body was thrust into what it described as the 'biggest match fixing scandal to ever hit Europe'.

It centred on 200 fixtures across nine countries. The majority of the games in question were in the lower tier in the respective nations, while friendly games were also part of the probe.

Recent problems across the water in England have centred on the lower leagues.

Crucially, there are instances where players accused of wrongdoing have not been involved in actively seeking to fix the result of a game.

The area that can be manipulated by a handful of individuals on a pitch is spot betting - where punters can bet during a game on which team will win the next corner, or pick up a yellow card, or other smaller individual actions that are not based on the overall outcome.

In 2013, the UK's National Crime Agency charged ex-Premier League football Sam Sodje after he was filmed in a newspaper sting claiming that he could get pro players in the English lower leagues to get booked or even sent off in exchange for cash.

Last year, the FAI announced a new sponsorship deal for the League of Ireland, a deal with an Austrian company TRACKCHAMP, an arrangement which ultimately facilitated the live screening of games outside Ireland for gambling purposes. The FAI stressed that the cameras would help clubs in the area of video data and analysis.

But it also illustrated how betting on football has become a seriously big business. And, when money is at stake, problems can be created.

The Athlone story is not the first gambling tale to hit Irish football. In 2008, then St Pat's midfielder Gary Dempsey was punished for a small bet on his team to lose a game that he was out through injury. He eventually received a two game ban for what was a minor offence.

Five years later, Longford's Colm James was banned for 18 months after being reported by one of his own team-mates for a breach of FAI regulations.

Innuendo has surrounded other games, and led to behind the scenes enquiries from Irish football chiefs. But the international aspect of the Athlone case would indicate that it's on another level.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News