Europol warns of ‘greater risk’ of match-fixing during pandemic

Europol, the European Union’s agency for law enforcement cooperation, has issued a warning against the ‘greater risk’ of match-fixing by organised crime groups (OCGs).

The report, entitled The involvement of organised crime groups in sports corruption, emphasised that OCGs have been exploiting ‘the changing circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic’.

“Sports corruption is a serious crime involving organised crime groups operating transnationally,” said Europol. “These gangs are often poly-criminal and can well serve as a platform for organised crime groups to further high-scale money laundering schemes. The global annual criminal proceeds from betting-related match-fixing are estimated at €120 million.

“Online betting is increasingly used by organised crime groups to manipulate sports competitions and criminals usually target lower-level competitions across different sports, with football and tennis the most targeted sports by criminal networks.”

“Criminal business continued and it is anticipated that the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may be particularly significant in the area of organized crime, including money laundering and corruption,” Europol added.

OCGs have turned their attention towards lower-tier competitions, youth games and friendly matches as a result of the limited number of competitions offered by betting companies during the pandemic.

Europol said: “It is highly possible that match-fixers will focus on the few matches being held and put them under greater risk.”

The report found that football remained the most targeted and manipulated sport by international OCGs which Europol found was ‘due to its worldwide popularity, financial dimension and the large turnover betting market attached to it’.

The report added: “To date, the majority of the investigations supported by Europol relate to football. The money generated globally on football betting outweighs by far any other form of sports betting and is reported to be annually €895 billion (estimated annual amount of bet in sports general is €1.69 trillion).
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“According to some estimates, fewer than 1% of football matches a year are suspected to have been fixed. According to UEFA, sports corruption continues to challenge European football, particularly in the lower leagues, and in smaller countries in general.

“In this context, UEFA has witnessed a reduction in reported suspicious matches in certain Eurasian/Caucasian countries and around the Mediterranean, while noticing an increase of reports in countries neighbouring these areas.”

According to the agency, the annual betting market for sports is estimated to be €1.69 trillion while global annual criminal profits from betting-related match-fixing are predicted to be approximately €120 million.

Europol noted that several European countries have recorded instances of ‘ghost matches’ during the pandemic, with OCGs advertising games which did not exist on social media, blogs or fake websites to make money from bets.

To minimise the risks of match-fixing, Europol called for a ‘multi-stakeholder and multi-disciplinary approach for an effective fight against corruption in sports competitions’.

The report concluded: “This approach requires the necessary involvement of all relevant stakeholders including law enforcement, judicial authorities, sports bodies, regulatory authorities and other public authorities, betting operators, as well as private companies providing betting monitoring and integrity services, and the wider public.

“Protected reporting systems and whistleblowing mechanisms should also be further developed. Increased cooperation and coordination amongst different stakeholders may also be beneficial to raise awareness and to address challenges related to the limited expertise in this area.”

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