European football’s governing association UEFA announced that it has entered a partnership with the association which promotes sports betting integrity, ESSA. The governing body will combat match-fixing by receiving information from ESSA’s early alert platform which tracks unusual betting activity from various countries around the world. The new agreement will help UEFA identify attempted fixing of soccer matches.
The announcement was made Monday, only days after experts warned that this summer’s World Cup in Russia is at risk of match-fixing. In a statement, Managing Director of Integrity at The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Emilio Garcia said on Monday that ESSA has teamed up with Europe’s soccer regulator to help against the manipulation of matches. He added that the game should be protected from criminal groups that want to benefit from it and called match-fixing “a disease that threatens football’s soul”. The European Sports Security Association (ESSA) was created with the purpose of fighting betting related match-fixing.
UEFA’s President Aleksander Čeferin has previously identified the fight against manipulation of matches as one of his top priorities. He has noted that administrative bodies and regulators such as UEFA should develop and finance various initiatives for protecting the integrity of European football and sports betting on the continent. One of the programs Europe’s soccer union is operating on is the betting fraud detection system (BFDS) which monitors betting activities on more than 32,000 matches each year. This system also analyses betting patterns in both UEFA matches and in domestic championships.
ESSA’s secretary general Khalid Ali commented the partnership, saying that the betting integrity association has been a major player in the coordinated fight against match-fixing and manipulation, especially when it comes to betting operations. ESSA has 25 members and its early warning platform tracks and reports suspicious betting activity across Europe. It has positions on match-fixing and betting policy forums at the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the International Olympic Committee.
Risks of Match-Fixing even at Prestigious Events
Gambling regulators and representatives of sporting and gambling operators have warned that even popular, prestigious events are at risk of match manipulation and fixing. Last week, industry representatives and regulatory bodies met at the Betting on Football conference at Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge stadium. One of the highlights of the meeting was the potential challenges for the integrity of the upcoming FIFA World Cup which will be held in Russia this summer.
According to some experts, the sheer size of the event makes corruption extremely difficult to spot. With the huge 2015 U.S. investigation of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering at FIFA still underway, many expect Russia to be just the next destination of corruption. Jeffrey Webb, former CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) chief, lost a partial appeal against a FIFA fine on March 12. The 2015 corruption scandal was also the downfall of former FIFA president Sepp Blatter and former UEFA president Michel Platini. All three were banned from football for life and the regulator imposed hefty fines.
With these cases proving that no sporting event or sports league is ever immune to fixing, corruption, and fraud, experts say sports betting has a lot of vulnerabilities. Online gambling and online sports wagering, in particular, come with factors that pose a real threat to the integrity of the game. Moreover, with the large amount of transactions, fixed matches can be harder to identify as they are often hidden behind the large amounts of money that are wagered.