Amid a growing concern for the number of alleged spot fixing incidents occurring in England Scottish football, the FA is thought to be liaising with gambling operators in a bid to have yellow card betting markets ceased.
Punters can currently bet on how many cards will be shown in a game to either team, while for the most popular competitions like the Premier League there’s also an opportunity to wager on which individual players will be cautioned.
That has led to a number of high-profile incidents and investigations in recent times, with Lucas Paqueta – the West Ham winger and Brazilian international – the latest to be embroiled in an alleged scandal over a series of yellow cards he has been shown in recent months.
Bookmakers and integrity analysts monitor betting patterns to unearth potential fraud and spot fixing, and ironically it was Betway – the sponsor of West Ham – who reported the suspicious activity around Paqueta to the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA).
The Football Association announced publicly that the Brazilian was under investigation – putting the skids on his proposed summer move to Premier League champions Manchester City.
On the Cards
Although incidents of match fixing in major European competition are thought to be minimal – save for two alleged games in the Conference League earlier this season (more on those later), spot fixing breaches are somewhat harder to prove.
Some bookies offer odds on players to make a certain number of tackles and fouls per game now, which an individual may be able to get away with fudging simply by getting stuck in as part of the hustle and bustle of modern football.
A large volume of bets, or unexpectedly sizable amounts wagered, can give the game away, but when betting consortiums are more conservative in their bet sizes, such spot fixing can pass under the integrity firms’ radar.
The FA would need the approval of the Gambling Commission in order to have card betting markets withdrawn, although an alternative option would be to approach betting firms directly and request that they voluntarily take them down for the good of the game. Unibet have already stopped offering cards markets of their own volition.
The number of investigations into suspicious betting patterns in football has undoubtedly increased in direct correlation with bookmakers offering player prop style markets. Granit Xhaka, the former Arsenal midfielder who needs no invitation to pick up a card or two, was cleared of any wrongdoing after a flurry of bets on him to be carded against Leeds in 2021 came in.
But plenty of others have been found guilty of the charges made against them. Kynan Isaac’s career in football was effectively ended by a 12-year ban – the longest suspension in recent memory for such an offence – handed to him by the FA, who found that the defender had deliberately been booked during an FA Cup tie that was broadcast live on ITV. Their investigation revealed 14 bets had been placed on Isaac to be carded.
Bradley Wood went one better by deliberately being booked in two FA Cup ties while playing for Lincoln City. He was found to have breached betting rules 25 times in all, securing him a six-year ban from all levels of the game.
Thousands of pounds was wagered on Kane Hester to be booked when Elgin City took on Hibernian in Scotland – a police raid uncovered £2,000 in cash in Hester’s bedside table that he later admitted was ‘payment’ for the act, while in Brazil more than a dozen players are suspected of spot fixing offences.
Spot fixing is one thing, but coordinated match fixing quite another entirely.
Two games in the Europa Conference League in July were also flagged as suspicious by integrity specialists. Armenian outfit Alashkert bashed Arsenal Tivat 6-1 in the second leg of their qualifier, while the contest between FK Rigas Futbola Skola and Makedonija GP – which the former won 4-1 – has also come under the microscope.
Exclusive: two matches in this season’s Europa Conference League have been flagged to UEFA because of suspicious betting patterns indicative of possible match-fixing. Raises questions for UEFA about the integrity of its new tournament.https://t.co/g61rVGwGp3
— Joey D’Urso (@josephmdurso) August 30, 2023
It’s thought that the two games saw an abnormally large amount wagered on the winning teams given their lowly status in the sport, and while Rigas have strongly denied any wrongdoing, the other three sides embroiled in the scandal have so far refused to comment.
The suspicious betting data has now been passed to UEFA, who may choose to launch a full investigation.