Friday 19 February 2021 2:52 pm

The changing face of match-fixing and why integrity mustn't be allowed to suffer as Covid-19 squeezes budgets

As sports events continue to take place in unfamiliar surroundings, the integrity of competitions has been thrust into the spotlight as match-fixing grows and evolves. 

The global pandemic has created many new challenges to the sporting world, none more significant than the way in which criminals have been able to intensify their operations and become more aggressive in their activities. 

Although an influx of new competitions has provided a vital boost for sports, bookmakers and the public following the outbreak of Covid-19, the dynamics of bet monitoring have changed considerably and the risks involved elevated to new heights.

Read more: Too much of a good thing: Are round-the-clock matches giving you football fatigue?

Match-fixing is taking shape in different forms; we know this through first-hand experience as 50 per cent of the total matches escalated as suspicious by Sportradar Integrity Services in 2020 came from outside of our formal monitoring agreements and coverage. 

Suspicious matches affected a variety of sports this last year, including beach volleyball, basketball, table tennis and ice hockey. 

The likelihood is that the number of suspicious matches outside our formal systematic monitoring will be far higher, as we were only triggered to look into a small subsection of alerts from our huge intelligence network. We are just scratching the surface.

Bet monitoring has been and always will be a critical part of the sports ecosystem, but as match-fixers deploy new tactics, the need to keep one step ahead of the criminals is vital. 

In an alarming development, direct approaches through social media platforms are becoming more common, with an increase of lone individuals unconnected to traditional organised syndicates offering money to athletes or referees to influence matches. 

From players and officials to clubs, leagues and administrators, more industry stakeholders than ever are susceptible to manipulation. 

Free for all

While the fight to uphold the integrity of sports is imperative, we cannot ignore the hardship that the sports industry is enduring, most notably the enormous loss of revenues as Covid-19 restrictions remain. 

Although most sporting bodies remain steadfast in their motivation to combat fraudulent activity, integrity is unfortunately one of the first business areas to face budget cuts when financial concerns deepen, particularly for organisations with smaller incomes. 

The industry is expected to maintain the same high standards for integrity procedures, but with fewer resources. 

This undoubtedly provides more challenges for sporting bodies, with some already facing problems as financial struggles deepen. 

It is our view that reliable bet monitoring tools for sporting competitions should be universally available for all, irrespective of budgets. 

The fight against match-fixing must continue at all costs as integrity is fundamental to public confidence in sport. Wrongdoing of any kind, at any tier of competition impacts all levels of sport and its fans.

This has been a major factor in our decision to offer our market-leading and Court of Arbitration for Sport-approved bet monitoring service, Universal Fraud Detection System (UFDS), free of charge to any global sports federation or league that wants to deploy it. 

Matters of finance must not be a barrier for leagues and federations in their efforts to protect against corruption in their sports. 

As challenges remain, UFDS is critical in detecting irregular betting patterns in markets across the globe. 

The scalability and reliability of UFDS was proven in 2020, with more than 600,000 matches monitored across over 1,000 leagues and competitions in 26 different sports, twice as many matches as in 2019. 

This has been made possible through gains in the implementation of machine learning and other new technologies, which are now key parts of UFDS.

At Sportradar, we are more committed than ever to preserving the future of sport. We want to give something back and also protect our partners. 

There are difficult times ahead for all stakeholders, but as match-fixing operations intensify, universal bet monitoring systems are critical in the fight against corruption. 

Andreas Krannich is Managing Director, Integrity Services, Sportradar AG.