IBIA: Football friendlies are easily exploited by match fixers

The International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA) has warned betting leadership that a lack of governance of friendly football matches is being exploited by criminal gangs. 

New research by the University of Nicosia Research Foundation, funded by the EC’s Erasmus+ programme, has revealed that more than 250 friendly matches involving European clubs “showed signs of suspicious activity” during the recorded period of 2016-to-2020.

A survey undertaken on 700 players based in Cyprus, Greece and Malta, revealed that more than a quarter of participants (26.5%) had played in a friendly match that they suspected to be manipulated.

Of heightened concern, more than a quarter (26.3%) of approaches to fix a friendly match were made by club officials and 15% by other players. Research stated that club officials were the instigators in 19% of approaches to manipulate friendlies and were the main beneficiaries in 26.3% of approaches.

The IBIA warned: “International and national football federations have been slow to establish where responsibility lies for friendlies, particularly when clubs from different countries are involved in non-competitive matches played in a third country. Some European football federations do not track where clubs go on pre-season and mid-winter tours.”

Unlike competitive matches, which are usually covered by agreements between data companies and competition organisers, friendlies are a free-for-all.

The lack of oversight combined with the availability of friendly football matches on unregulated operators based in Curaçao and the Philippines has left games exposed to match-fixing.

The research upholds the safeguards suggested by the report on “Combating Match Fixing in Club Football Non-Competitive Friendlies”, which proposed UEFA enforce regulation of friendlies on all 55 member associations.

Further controls call for match agents to be barred from owning clubs, just as players’ agents, and the formation of a body to represent match agents in future negotiations with international bodies such as FIFA and UEFA on regulation. 

“This research shows that in terms of governance, friendly matches need to be considered just like competitive matches,” advised lead investigator Professor Nicos Kartakoullis, President of the Council, University of Nicosia.

“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.”

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