Europol warns that sports could face greater match-fixing threat during pandemic

EU agency for law enforcement cooperation Europol has warned that organised crime groups (OCGs) could pose a greater threat for sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a report titled ‘The involvement of organised crime groups in sports corruption’, the agency said that OCGs have been seeking to take advantage of the “changing circumstances”. 

Criminals have adopted multiple different tactics to make profits illegally from sporting events, including tricking people into wagering on matches that never took place.

“Online betting is increasingly used by OCGs for match-fixing” 

According to Europol, criminal profits from betting-related match-fixing stand at around €120 globally each year. The agency’s report also noted that sporting corruption can help groups to engage in further money laundering practices. 

Due to the pandemic, most major sporting events across the world were postponed or cancelled between March and late May. But despite the lack of action, that didn’t stop criminals from trying to seep their influence into competitions. 

“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 organised crime, including money laundering and corruption.” 

Europol also mentioned that many countries across Europe reported ‘ghost matches’ while they were battling the virus. These involved criminals advertising games that didn’t exist via social media, blogs, or other means – hoping to prey on unsuspecting individuals who fancied a flutter. 

Some countries might be at a greater risk of match-fixing than others 

Global sports betting is worth around €1.69 trillion each year, with football betting contributing roughly €895 billion to that. 

Estimates have suggested that fewer than 1% of football matches each year are rigged. But according to UEFA, corruption can still be a problem in both lower leagues and smaller countries. 

The report said that Europe’s football governing body “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”. 

When it comes to tennis, Europol said that the “detection of match-fixing schemes” has risen. It believes that Eurasian groups are primarily involved in rigging games in said sport. 

How can countries fight against the threat of match-fixing? 

Battling corruption in sport requires a “multi-stakeholder and multi-disciplinary” approach, according to the agency. 

Expanding further on this, Europol said the following. 

“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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