• Match-fixers are increasingly focusing on friendly matches due to lack of regulation
  • A new study urges governing bodies and FIFA to act quickly in the matter
  • Match-fixers are getting more inventive in forwarding their nefarious interests

Criminals are constantly on the prowl and seeking to exploit some weakness in the establishment. This is the message International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA) officials are trying to communicate to sports bodies that are turning a blind eye to friendly soccer matches and failing to offer sufficient scrutiny.

This nonchalance has allowed criminals to thrive, or at least find ways to manipulate sports betting results by fixing friendly games. Research by the University of Nicosia Research Foundation has been able to dig in a little more detail in the practice of fixing friendlies.

According to the research, some 250 friendly matches between European soccer teams were flagged as suspicious in the period between 2016 and 2020. This outward observation is aligned with what the players themselves believe to be true.

Players Suspect Match Fraud and Report Complicity

An estimated 26.5% of all 700 respondents interviewed from clubs in Greece, Cyprus, and Malta said that they suspected foul play in some of the games they had participated in. Some 26.3% of all advances by match-fixers were made by club officials and 15% came from fellow players.

In 19% of the cases, the clubs themselves initiated requests to manipulate friendlies and in 26.3% of all cases, they were the main beneficiaries of the outcome. IBIA used the basis of the survey to issue an appeal to governing bodies to act swiftly in the matter, highlighting some of the problems as they went along:

“Some European football federations do not track where clubs go on pre-season and mid-winter tours.”

Research by the University of Nicosia Research Foundation

Lack of sufficient oversight by regional bodies has given rise to situations in which nefarious parties are able to reach out to athletes and clubs and seek to fix matches unpunished. Friendlies are often described as a “free-for-all” with little oversight looking to stay the game and offer a fair competition.

Another problem is the fact that many unregulated operators out of Curacao and the Philippines have been happy to offer sports gambling to punters. The research argues that for a notable change to transpire, UEFA would need to enforce tighter controls over the 55 member associations which in turn should seek to clamp down on such practices on a national or regional level.

Punish All Who Deserve to Be Punished

IBIA further suggests that any entity or individual involved in the fixing of friendly matches should bear stiff penalties. FIFA and UEFA regulations should prevent individuals from owning or even participating in soccer anymore.

University of Nicosia’s lead investigator in the research, Nicos Kartakoullis, argues that friendly matches and professional matches should be equated in terms of the oversight exercised on them.

“With the data for 4,000 friendly matches being offered for betting purposes around the world each year, it is also vital that the betting companies receiving that data are operating from well-regulated jurisdictions and report suspicious betting to protect the integrity of those events,” Kartakoullis concluded.

Lead investigator Nicos Kartakoullis

Apart from friendly soccer matches, match-fixers have been exploring other areas of the experience, including competitive video gaming, which became very popular during the pandemic.