"Match-fixing is like doping in cycling"

Many betting agencies include lower-level games or even those from the junior leagues Keystone

As Swiss involvement in Europe's worst football match-fixing scandal emerges, a Swiss lottery operator tells about the causes – and possible cures.

This content was published on November 25, 2009 - 08:43

Willy Mesmer from Swisslos, which is also responsible for Totogoal, a football betting service, says match-rigging around the world is one of the biggest threats for football and sport in general.

International investigators believe 200 games to have been rigged, including three in the qualifying stages of the Champions League and 12 in the Europa League, the continent's second-tier competition. Police have arrested 15 people in Germany and two in Switzerland.

In Switzerland, 22 games are under suspicion.

On April 26, according to Swiss newspaper reports, players for FC Thun – a second division team – received €15,000 (SFr22,690) to lose by four goals. The game ended 5-1 for Yverdon.

FC Gossau is said to have received €20,000 to lose by at least two goals to Locarno on May 24. Locarno won 4-0. The return on investment for the match fixers is believed to have been €149,000.

Earlier this month first division Bulgarian club Lokomotiv Mezdra played two friendlies in Switzerland – against Young Boys Bern and Aarau – and lost 5-0 both times. Against Bern the final two goals were an own goal and a penalty.

Defending online operators, the European Sports Security Association (ESSA) told that to suggest the online gambling industry had made it easier for criminals to fix games was "misleading". For ESSA's reaction, see the box to the right. How is it possible for so many matches in so many countries to be hit by this betting scandal?

Willy Mesmer: The more money is involved in a game, the greater the danger of fraud and rigging. But this is true not only for sports or the betting world. Why are players in Switzerland's lower leagues involved?

W.M.: Bets on single events in leagues that attract less interest – such as those provided online in large numbers – offer much greater match-fixing possibilities than traditional sweepstakes. The new betting products are more "manipulation friendly", so to speak.

In the traditional sweepstake, you had to predict the outcomes of multiple games –generally including those played in various countries. Such a format makes match-fixing all but impossible. Has the internet and the resultant globalisation of gambling contributed to a match-fixing trend, or do other reasons play a greater role?

W.M.: The internet has opened up completely new possibilities. In addition to the closely monitored "state" betting agencies for example, many dodgy outfits have sprung up, often based in offshore locations.

The sport betting market is enormous, with demand in Asia particularly large. Therefore many betting agencies include lower-level games or even those from the junior leagues.

But there's no way you can pin fraud exclusively to sport or the betting industry – humans having been deceiving each other since the dawn of time. Have bets on Swisslos also been affected?

W.M.: It's too soon to say how this scandal will affect Swisslos sports bets. We're assuming however that gamblers are perfectly capable of telling the difference between reputable and non-reputable betting agencies.

But global match-rigging is one of the biggest threats for football and sport in general – only doping comes close. Why are players increasingly corruptible?

W.M.: I think above all it's the desire for a quick buck. The new online possibilities have moved the spotlight onto football. But let's not forget that boxing for example has been discredited for years because of such machinations. Match manipulation has nothing to do with the "normal" demand for betting or gambling. How does betting work? What is a bookmaker, what is a betting agency? Where exactly is the profit?

W.M.: With bookmakers the odds generally depend on the betting behaviour of gamblers and above all the odds offered by competitors. With Swisslos on the other hand odds for predefined settlement periods are fixed, are based on systematic analyses of sports experts and are limited.

Unlike bookmakers, Swisslos doesn't take on any financial risk – instead it limits [risk] by defined limits for stakes and odds. Bookmakers knowingly take on risks, and often try to re-insure these – often unsuccessfully.

What's more, Swisslos doesn't have the same high dividend payout rate as bookmakers, who often allow unlimited stakes and offer variable rates. What can be done to prevent match-fixing?

W.M.: The number of events on which people can bet should be reduced. This current situation is largely the result of the unusual rise in betting possibilities and betting agencies. That makes effective controlling difficult.

At Swisslos, if excessively large stakes are placed on an single game or a combination of games, our electronic monitoring system reacts immediately.

All state lotteries put a lot of resources into the protection and integrity of sport. They were also the first to introduce a monitoring system and since 2005 have officially worked with Uefa and have reported all abnormal betting patterns.

Alexander Künzle, (Translated from German by Thomas Stephens)

ESSA reaction

A reaction from the European Sports Security Association (ESSA), which was established in 2005 by the leading online sports book operators in Europe to monitor any irregular betting patterns or possible insider betting from within each sport.

"Match-fixing is a scourge for both soccer and the gambling industry alike and must be cut out. To suggest, however, that the online gambling industry has made it easier for criminals to fix games is misleading. After all, the internet offers the ability to monitor, register and trace every transaction and bring transparency to gambling.

During the 'Hoyzer affair' in 2005 [a German football scandal involving a referee called Robert Hoyzer] it was actually the land-based/offline German state monopoly Oddset which lost millions of euros because it lacked the means to detect betting patterns.

The early warning system allows us to work hand-in-hand with sports regulators and their disciplinary and legal departments, ensuring that when an alert is given, the regulator is informed immediately – so they can assess whether a game has been compromised.

However, sport federations must also take steps to implement and enforce strict rules to prevent players, coaches and officials from being corrupted. Keeping criminals out of soccer and out of the gambling industry is essential to preserving the integrity, trust and reputation for both sectors."

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