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Global match fixing investigation focuses on Asia

Global match fixing investigation focuses on Asia
February 10, 2013

An investigation by European Police agency Europol into match-fixing in European football has revealed more than 700 or so suspicious games – and placed the blame on Asian gambling syndicates.

In a week when Australian sport has been rocked by the release of an Australian Crime Commission (ACC) report highlighting the widespread use of banned drugs in Australian professional sport as well as links with organised crime, both reports highlight how organised international crime is taking a grip on international sport.

While the Europol investigation largely relates to European football, it has been revealed that, reportedly through the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Asian gamblers wagered almost $50 million by betting on an A-League match between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United in December - $7 million more than was wagered on that weekend's Manchester derby in the English Premier League.

With many football competitions in Asia rocked by gambling scandals, Asian gamblers are not only gambling on European games, with Australia's compatible time zones making it easier for punters to bet just before and during a match.

Speaking this week, Chris Eaton, former head of security at world football governing body FIFA and currently the Director of Sport Integrity at the International Centre for Sport (ICSS) Chris Eaton explained how gambling houses in Southeast Asia form the foundation for organised crime gangs to generate huge profits from sports match-fixing.

While there is no suggestion that the Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United contest, which Adelaide won 4-2, or any other A-League game, has been corrupted, Eaton explained that the betting surge "certainly highlights the vulnerability of Australian sport in Asia."

Eaton continued "sport is now under unprecedented attack from criminals and opportunists who conspire to manipulate the results of competitions around the world to fraudulently win the tens and hundreds of millions that is gambled on sport around the world every day, with the vast majority of this money being invested into the black and grey betting markets of South East Asia.

"The entire international betting and gambling industry lies within a complex and convoluted global network, not unlike the interdependence and connectivity seen in international financial markets today.

"What is apparent is that there is a clear absence of effective and collective government control on international gambling that deters match-fixers and organised criminals. It is this absence of governmental supervision at a global level where the real fight against match fixing and the manipulation of sport outcomes must now be fought.

"All sports played with international interest are affected to varying degrees by the general popularity and attraction to gamblers. But because international sport is enormously popular, and because the results of a sport contest is perceived as never absolutely certain, sport has become the single most gambled on activity around the world today. It is precisely because of this growth in international betting on sport that criminals have aggressively moved into manipulating sports, especially match fixing in football.

"Put simply, betting fraud is the basis and motivation for modern match fixing. Both are crimes and both are rampant internationally. Both need to be confronted if we are to clean up sport and safeguard the integrity of sport among fans, supporters and sponsors. You cannot though just focus on sport alone. This is akin to only focussing on the addicts and dealers of the illicit drug trade, and ignoring the manufacturers and financiers.

"The primary challenge in the relationship between the criminal abuse of betting on sport and the criminal manipulation of sport is identifying a betting conspiracy early, so that the betting fraud can be eliminated while it is unfolding and the sport manipulation can be stopped before it is completed.

"The challenge is compounded by the fact that most gamblers progressively bet while a match is actually in-play, therefore almost always meaning that a betting conspiracy is only detectable after a match is well underway, and not before.

"For any international sport and organisation seriously seeking to protect itself from manipulation by criminals today, the monitoring of international betting to detect fraud affecting their sport is an essential modern tool."

Eaton also highlights 'grey area' gambling, which lies between legal betting and 'black area' gambling, which Eaton identifies as illegal, cash-based betting with a trusted clientele known to the bookmakers.

The grey gambling market's lack of oversight undermined the efforts of countries such as South Korea, where 41 players from its K-League were banned for life by FIFA for match-fixing, and authorities have allied with sports agencies and police to combat the corruption.

Eaton adds "the grey-area betting businesses, particularly out of Manila, are the biggest concern to us. We don't know enough about them and the government has an under-regulated environment.

"It's almost impossible to measure how they do business and what weaknesses they have that allow organised crime to take advantage of them."

The three largest gambling houses in Asia, IBCBET, SBOBET and 188BET, are all in Manila in the Philippines.

Eaton describes their operations as "very opaque" and said what was known of them came purely from talking to people familiar with their workings, as there was no government record.

Eaton suggests that their huge profits made them ideal for exploitation by organised crime syndicates. These online businesses operated as an exchange, rather than traditional risk-taking bookmakers which would bet against the gambler.

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