If you ever doubted that high-level sport was rigged or the victim of fraud, think again.
That’s the message emanating from Sportradar, the key body for preserving integrity in sport, who have revealed a sharp spike in ‘fraud’ in the past 18 months.
The body launched their Universal Fraud Detection System (UFDS) in the spring of 2020, with the system used to spot suspicious betting patterns and other tell-tale signs in more than 70 countries.
Incredibly, the UFDS has already flagged more than 1,100 suspicious signals since its implementation, with more than half of those coming in the first ninth months of this year.
The problem runs so deep that Sportradar have the UFDS available to sporting officials, federations and governing bodies for free, in the hope that will create an appetite for stamping fraud out of their competitions.
Andreas Krannich, Sportradar’s managing director of integrity services, said: “As our analysis shows, match-fixing is evolving, and those behind it are diversifying their approach, both in the sports and competitions they target, and the way they make approaches to athletes, such as the rise in digital approaches.
“To help address this, Sportradar has made a significant investment to make it possible to offer the UFDS for free to global sports organisations and leagues.”
Football the Most at Risk of the Big Fix
Of that alarmingly large number of fraud cases, more than half of all reported were football matches.
The concern is that the process seems to be accelerating, with more than 500 suspicious games taking place in 2021 alone.
Using their intelligence, Sportradar have concluded that nearly half of those come from domestic football competitions, and specifically third-tier and youth leagues and below. But that does make you wonder….does that mean that some top-tier games are being rigged too?
Another target for fraudsters is esports, which – with smaller audiences watching on – is perhaps a prime target for a fix. While the numbers aren’t especially large – 70 matches in total have been flagged by UFDS since their records began in April 2020 – there has been a considerable spike this year, with 60% of all reports coming in the last nine months alone.
Otherwise, the other most ‘suspicious’ sports are:
- Tennis – 37
- Basketball – 19
- Table Tennis – 11
- Ice Hockey – 9
- Cricket – 6
Volleyball, beach volleyball and handball also triggered UFDS detection.
As far as geography is concerned, a large chunk of the suspicious activity has come in sporting events played in Europe, with Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region next on the list. Of the least fraudulent areas, North America recorded the fewest cases.
How Does the Universal Fraud Detection System Work?
The origin of Sportradar’s work is in bet monitoring, and specifically looking for patterns of bets that would suggest that a fix is in the offing.
That can be a larger-than-normal amount wagered, so a low-tier tennis match seeing thousands punted on it would come onto the radar. Or it might be a specific type of bet – maybe the ‘unders’ line on a football match – that is flagged up.
The Fraud Detection System, which was the forerunner to UFDS, is used by sports around the world, and in 2020 a staggering 600,000 events – across a diverse range of 1,000 leagues and competitions and 26 sports – were monitored for integrity.
Devised in 2005, FDS has uncovered monumental fixing in worldwide sport – more than 5,300 events have appeared on its radar. As a consequence, over 400 sanctions have been dished out, and in 30 cases that has led to a criminal conviction for those involved.
Two of the latest cases uncovered came in September, when two tennis professionals were punished by International Tennis Integrity Association (ITIA) for their involvement in fraud.
The Algerian, Hichem Yasri, was banned from playing for three months and fined $5,000 for placing bets on tennis matches. It is forbidden for any pro under the governing body’s rules to bet on games – even those they are not involved in.
And Mauricio Echazu Puente, once inside the ATP Tour’s top 400 players, is provisionally suspended pending an investigation into match fixing allegations.