Tuesday 16 January 2018

Don't gamble on simple solution for match-fixing

Football accepts it has a problem but match-fixing isn't going to disappear

'There was a palpable sense of relief last week that the revelations didn't concern the Premier League’
'There was a palpable sense of relief last week that the revelations didn't concern the Premier League’

Dion Fanning

In 2009, the English FA suspended four players who had bet on the outcome of a match between Accrington Stanley and Bury. James Harris, an Accrington Stanley player, received the longest ban of a year. He was one of three Accrington players found to have bet on Bury to win.

"All the charges against Andrew Mangan, David Mannix and Robert Williams as well as the more serious charge against James Harris concerned betting on a match Accrington Stanley v Bury on 3 May, 2008," the chairman of the commission Nicholas Stewart QC said. "The Regulatory Commission has serious concerns that the outcome of the match may have been fixed although none of the players were charged with these offences."

In March this year, the English FA announced that it had contacted all 22 clubs in the Blue Square Bet South division after concerns over unusual betting patterns.

Two betting firms said they wouldn't take bets on games the following weekend involving Chelmsford, Billericay Town and AFC Hornchurch in what is effectively's England's sixth division.

"In 15 years of managing that has to be the most despicable thing I have ever heard of," Craig Edwards, the Billericay Town manager, said. "I know people at Chelmsford, I know people at Hornchurch and I know people here. I'm telling you, there is absolutely no chance that anyone is doing anything untoward."

In October, the chairmen of the three clubs claimed they had heard nothing from the FA about the case. "I am calling for the authorities in this country to investigate the possibility of match-fixing at our level of football," Billericay chairman Steve Kent told the BBC. "How can they investigate alleged match-fixing involving my club when not a single person from the police, the FA, or the league made any kind of approach to us whatsoever? It's amazing."

Last year a game in Norway between Ullensaker/Kisa and Ham Kam was postponed after unusual betting patterns were detected. "Unfortunately, I can't say I'm shocked because we see it coming closer and closer. There are large international criminal networks behind this. To believe that it wouldn't strike us is almost naive," said the president of the Norwegian FA, Yngve Hallen. Norwegian police investigated other games as well.

Last month, Swedish second division side Landskrona BoIS said it had reported several cases of match-fixing to the local police.

"After consultations with the Swedish Football Association, Landskrona BoIS has decided to lodge a police complaint over match-fixing and illegal betting during several of the club's matches this season," the club said in a statement. In October, the club had announced that they had suspended two players until further notice after they were suspected of influencing results in favour of opponents.

Last Wednesday, the Austrian authorities revealed that 20 players are being questioned over allegations that 17 matches, including nine in the Austrian Bundesliga, have been fixed in the past seven years.

Next February, the Court of Arbitration for Sport will hear the appeal of Malta midfielder Kevin Sammut. Sammut was banned for life for his part in match-fixing after Norway beat Malta 4-0 in a Euro 2008 qualifier.

Last week's revelations in the Daily Telegraph may finally have persuaded those in England that they are not alone. Last week, there may have been the realisation that English football is as susceptible to

temptation as every other league in the world, despite all the previous warning signs. "This has shown that the English game is as open as any other country," Graham Bean, the former head of the FA's compliance unit, says. On Friday, two men appeared before magistrates in Staffordshire charged with conspiracy to defraud bookmakers.

In Ireland, there have been plenty of warnings and Irish football was name-checked by the fixer in last week's stories when he suggested he had fixed games in Ireland and World Cup qualifiers. "I do Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Europe, World Cup, World Cup qualifier," the Singaporean national said.

"This is an issue which we take seriously," an FAI spokesman said. "We work on an ongoing basis with An Garda Síochána, UEFA and the betting industry. We have a memorandum of understanding in place with the betting companies as well as an early warning system to detect abnormal betting trends. Since the developments, we have been in further contact with Europol and Interpol and at this stage there is no indication from them or UEFA of an Irish connection; however, we remain vigilant."

Those who saw this as a defiant assertion that football in Ireland was clean may have got carried away. "It's constant," an FAI source said, stressing that the association remained on guard but a few rogue players could change everything.

Longford Town's Colm James was banned for 18 months earlier this year after he was found guilty of offences concerning betting and attempting to bet on games. James was found to have breached FAI rules in relation to 'bringing the game into disrepute', 'corruption' and 'betting/gambling'.

Last year, Airtricity League director Fran Gavin visited the dressing rooms of Shelbourne and Monaghan United before a game to alert them to irregular betting patterns, although no further action was required. "If anyone ever tried to get involved in something like that I'd bring them straight to a police station and I'd make sure they never kicked a ball again because that for me is the lowest of the low," then Monaghan manager Roddy Collins said.

Two betting firms in England have decided not to take bets on certain Conference teams and the reports last week again referred to the game between Billericay Town and Welling when more than £1m was staked, more than on the Barcelona match in the Champions League the same night.

There was a palpable sense of relief last week that the revelations didn't concern the Premier League and some feel the authorities won't take it seriously until a big game is affected. Players with money are seen as protected from the temptations but it only takes one syndicate to discover that one Premier League player is in need of money and willing for that to change.

"All it takes is one Premier League player to take a yellow card in the first ten minutes of a game and his financial worries will be over," says Bean.

There are fewer markets in Asia than many, perhaps including Bean, imagine. A fixer is unlikely to get rich placing bets on the number of bookings in a game but the gambling world is drawn to the legal betting companies in Asia because they take higher stakes and there is a greater volume of bets.

"The main Asian bookmakers don't even offer bets on those things," says one professional gambler. "The Irish and UK bookmakers do but the stakes that anyone could bet are so low that they aren't worth mentioning – and if anyone did actually try to bet any significant sum it would be flagged almost immediately. Large-scale fixing involves results, pure and simple."

Declan Hill, author of The Insider's Guide to Match-Fixing in Football, recalls a Friday night he spent with Asian bookmakers when there was no other football except an under 16 match and they took HK$4m on it. There was no suggestion the game was fixed, there was simply nothing else to bet on. "This is something new," says Hill.

Online gambling has changed the world of sport, making the result of a game in Dublin of interest to a man sitting at a laptop in Sofia. "The travel industry has changed," Hill says. "When I want to fly to New York I go online and book it and gambling has changed in the same way." There are early warning systems but most people believe fixed games usually involve bets being placed in-running to circumvent them.

While many people are aware of the problem, solving it is harder. Most believe in tougher investigations from the governing bodies but in a world where seven-figure sums can be bet on games involving players who earn a fraction of that amount there is always going to be increasing temptation.

When his side were one of those under suspicion last March, Billericay Town's manager Craig Edwards offered one solution to problems of match-fixing. "What they want to kick out of football is the gambling. Get rid of that and you have no corruption at all." Football might not be ready for zero tolerance just yet.

Sunday Independent

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