Soccer Scandals UEFA Probes Match-Fixing by Betting Syndicates

European soccer officials have asked Europol to investigate wide-ranging betting scams covering match-fixing in up to 26 high-profile European matches. The fraud, thought to be carried out by betting syndicates based in Asia, poses a serious threat to the integrity of the sport.

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Former German referee Robert Hoyzer was jailed for his part in a match-fixing scandal. UEFA is concerned that up to 26 European matches have been manipulated in a betting scam.
REUTERS

Former German referee Robert Hoyzer was jailed for his part in a match-fixing scandal. UEFA is concerned that up to 26 European matches have been manipulated in a betting scam.

The 96-page dossier looks like the kind of glossy brochure Europe’s governing soccer organization UEFA uses to market its leading international club competition, the Champions League. The flashy photo on the cover shows two players fighting for the ball with UEFA’s motto “We Care About Football” emblazoned next to it.

But what’s inside the report will do little to improve the sport’s image: it addresses betting manipulation in several big European matches. The dossier’s potential impact is so massive that five UEFA officials took it in early November to the headquarters of the European Union’s police agency Europol in The Hague to ask for help.

The report details the criminal elements that are threatening the integrity of the sport -- and the billion-dollar entertainment industry built around it -- on a far grander scale than doping ever could. Abusing performance-enhancing drugs might attack the fundamental ideas of fair play and good sportsmanship, but betting scams and match-fixing shake the very foundations of the entire system. It could be soccer, tennis, or basketball: but if the result depends on corrupt backroom deals, the matches become reduced to nothing more than farce.

SPIEGEL has had unprecedented access to the UEFA document, which shows just how deeply an international network of organized crime has already penetrated European club soccer. The betting mafia has apparently bribed players, club officials and even referees to make easy money from gambling. The dossier given to Europol describes in detail how four important European cup matches were allegedly manipulated last summer. It also provides a confidential list of “Irregular Betting” documenting 26 matches UEFA believes were bought.

At least 15 matches are thought to have been fixed during this season alone, the other 11 games took place from July 2005 through November 2006. They breakdown into the following competitions: 12 qualification matches for the UEFA Cup, eight for the Intertoto Cup, three qualification matches for the Champions League, two UEFA Cup matches, and even one qualification match for the European Championship (Euro 2008) next summer.

The report for Europol cites specific incidents UEFA considers suspicious and provides pages of betting results as supporting evidence. For example, gambling cheats supposedly made €3.4 million ($5 million) alone on the home defeat of the Estonian club FC TVMK Tallinn against Finnish team FC Honka Espoo during an Intertoto Cup match in July.

The performance of another Estonian team, JK Trans Narva, is also thought to have been manipulated. The Estonians lost 0-6 in July to the Swedish club Helsingborgs IF, but even 25 minutes into the match, when the score was still 0-0, live bets wagering the guests would lose by at least three goals were still being made. The estimated winnings totaled at least €1.5 million.

UEFA detailed an even more blatant case of likely match-fixing in mid July during the UEFA Cup contest between Serbian club FK Bezanija and its Albanian opponent KS Besa Kavajë. Most European betting shops placed lower limits on wagers on the game “as teams from Albania have a long history of manipulating matches,” according to the report prepared for Europol.

But about 45 minutes before kickoff something strange happened: Asian betting shops were suddenly overwhelmed by large sums wagering the favored Serbs would either win by only one goal, draw, or even lose the match. The unexpected “flood of money” UEFA describes hitting the bookies shortly before the game started caused “the Asian market practically to collapse.”

The match ended 2-2 with the Albanians managing to get the draw just before the final whistle and the bets placed raked in around €1.5 million. UEFA appears confident that members of the Serbian side were in on the scam: “This match followed all the classical signs of a manipulated match.”

Only one club on the list of allegedly manipulated matches has so far been brought before UEFA’s disciplinary committee. Greek team Egaleo FC accepted a fine of 50,000 Swiss francs (€30,000) for “bringing UEFA and its competitions into disrepute” during a 1-3 loss to Lithuanian club FK Zalgiris Vilnius in July 2005. But last Thursday, UEFA took up the case of Bulgarian club PFC Cherno More Varna. Officials are convinced the team’s players were involved in betting manipulation in a Intertoto Cup match played against Macedonian side FK Makedonija Gorce Petrov.

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