Global Agencies to Tackle Match Fixing

Transparency International has joined with European football associations to tackle the issue of match fixing, the organizations said in a joint press release on Wednesday. 

The aim of the project, called Staying on Side, is to create educational and preventative programs that target players and officials, and can be used by football leagues throughout Europe. The project will focus on providing educational materials to young players in a workshop setting, Sylvia Schenk, Senior Advisor for Sport at Transparency International told OCCRP. These materials present scenarios involving questionable ethics related to match fixing, and then players discuss and decide on the best course of action as a group.

The Association of European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) and the German Football League (DFL), TI’s partners in the venture, encompass a large majority of professional football in Europe. Their membership includes 29 leagues, including the English, German, Spanish, French, and Italian domestic leagues.

A February announcement by Europol of a major match-fixing ring with ties to organized crime highlighted the continued threat match fixing poses. That investigation found over 380 match-fixing attempts, including high profile matches in World Cup qualifying and the UEFA Champions League, as well as various domestic league matches throughout Europe. Over 400 players, officials and criminals are suspects in the schemes.  Betting profits for the organized crime group exceeded $10 million. At the time, Europol Director Rob Wainwright expressed concern that “illegal profits are made on a scale that threatens the very fabric of the game.”

Schenk echoed Wainwright’s concerns, saying that when it comes to match fixing, “quite often organized crime is involved.” The crime can be linked to blackmailing, among other illicit activities, Schenk said.

Staying on Side is based on a plan presented by TI to the European Union earlier in 2012 after calls by the European Commission for innovations in the fight against match fixing. The plan has roots in a similar joint venture in Germany between Transparency Germany and the domestic league. In that program, players were interested, coaches learned a lot, and the youth program officals welcomed Transparency’s initiatives, Schenk said.

The EPFL has also taken steps to tackle match fixing. In October of 2010 it enacted a code of conduct regarding match fixing, and called on members to “adopt appropriate legislation to protect the integrity of football.” The integrity of the game is a central aspect of  Staying on Side’s message to the youth players it targets as well. “We tell them the game is about fair play and the uncertainty of the result,” Schenk said. “Match fixing destroys football.”