Karl Dhont is a member of the Ethics and Disciplinary Unit of UEFA in the European fight against match-fixing and sports-fraud.
Mr Dhont, as internationally recognized expert fighting match fixing in the soccer world, where are we now ?
I honestly think we have come a long way. The European Commission and several national states take the matter very serious now. UEFA has definitely done its’ part in the fight against match-fixing with court cases, suspensions and also with setting up an international network of people from law enforcing agencies and officials from within the world of sport.
Having said all that, we must of course realize we are usually up against organized crime, which is a fight that transcends the world of football. The cross-border activities of the culprits and the fact corruption is a hard matter to bring to court makes things very difficult.
We have certainly raised the awareness around this topic in the world of football, not only with the players, referees and directors but also with the fans. At least we can now communicate with people who know what they are talking about.
But still, match-fixing is the number one threat in football, I would even say it can still bring the whole sport into jeopardy.
Before you were leading yourself a sportsbetting trading floor of 80 people, did you see the problem growing year per year?
Of course. I remember the late nineties with criminals rightly predicting several football scores at the end of the Italian football season in Serie A and Serie B, making millions in the process. Our complaints with the Italian Football Federation then still fell into deaf ears. But see how many Italian match-fixing cases have been dealt with since.
Early 2000, I oversaw a trading-floor making a turnover of 35 million euro a week on football alone. We witnessed plenty of cases. It was hard to convince the authorities we dealing with organised crime.
Since then we have seen match-fixing cases almost all over the world. We had 518 escalated matches by the Fraud Detection System in 2015 alone.
70 percent of all sportsbetting happens in Asia. The sums are huge and extremely worrying. We estimate that you can bet up to 400 000 euro on a 3rd division game in Norway, I don’t need to explain how much can be bet on the Premier League.
Sportradar and its excellent Fraud Detection System were involved in 106 closed sporting investigations worldwide where their FDS Reports were used, where participants were found guilty and sanctioned – since 2009. There are also 24 closed criminal investigations since 2013 that used the FDS Reports, where individuals were found guilty and sanctioned.
As long as there is a huge discrepancy between the big Leagues like the Champions League and the Premier League on one side and the smaller national competitions on the other side we will have problems. If you add that players from the smaller Leagues can make a lot more money betting on their games than winning them you can imagine what problem we are facing.
Yourself, you’re from Belgium, do you think there is still matchfixing possible in Belgium ? There was a scandal 10 years ago with Asian mafia taking over the control of several teams.
We had a huge problem here. Ye Zheyun, a Chinese businessman who was involved in a Belgian football corruption and betting scandal in 2005. Several teams and players received money from Ye Zheyun to fix match results, to ensure he could make huge betting profits in the process.
The teams involved were Lierse, La Louvière, Sint-Truiden, AEC Mons, Verbroedering Geel and also Germinal Beerschot. Ye Zheyun always appeared at teams who had financial problems. We saw many weird results in that period. Coaches, match agents and players have been punished by both the Belgian F.A. and the courts. Ye Zheyun himself is still on the run though.
In that period you were pointing to the Asian betting market as the source of the danger , is this still a danger coming from mainly Asia?
As I said, 70 percent of all sportsbetting is done in Asia but to be honest, these are only betting platforms where both bona fide punters and criminals can bet loads of money. Yes, of course, in many cases the anonymity of the punters and the fact that you can bet up to a 1000 times more than in Europe is of course a huge plus for the crime syndicates but I think the Sports Federations all over the world have been blaming the Asian betting market for long enough now. In our case, the games which are fixed are European fixtures, the players bribed are European and it is being played in Europe. We should stop blaming Asian websites and start focussing on the work in our own competitions.
The problem of course is complex with in one case Chinese criminals betting on a Philippine website on a friendly game being played in Spain between a Portuguese team and a Dutch team with the profits being sent to a bank account in Singapore. Which magistrate is taking it up? It is an invented example but you see my point.
How does it work ? Manipulating players ? Is it all about money ? Are they blackmailed ?
Of course it is always about the money. Manipulating football games is a criminal offence steered by greed. It can work in several ways, criminals can contact a player, or several of them. They can contact referees, linesmen, directors or players-agents. It is self-evident that clubs with money problems are a better target for match-fixers that Real Madrid is. Players who have been waiting for their salaries are easier targets than let’s say Cristiano Ronaldo.
My experience taught me that young players and payers in the end of their career are targeted firstly. Yes, some had problems and were blackmailed, other were threatened, yet a large part is just being bribed and that’s that. It’s hard to see a the difference on the pitch between a genuine mistake and an error on purpose.
Goalkeepers and referees can influence the outcome of a game a lot easier than let’s say a striker but we see football blunders on our TV every weekend. We never go to court on TV images alone.
A goalkeeper can jump one second later and he knows the ball will be in the net. A defender can turn around one second too late and he has already lost one meter to this attacking opponent. A linesman can let go an off-side situation and thus create danger in front of goal, there are so many ways to manipulate the outcome of a game.
The question remains – how do you tell if a game has been fixed?
There are several ways match-fixing can be detected. Some of them show up in other criminal files, like drug trafficking or extortion. Plenty of information comes to us via magistrates, investigation judges or police units. When there is a link to football we usually have the network to make sure it ends up with us as well.
The second pillar is of course our co-operation with Sportradar.
Is UEFA and FIFA doing enough to stop matchfixing ? What are the authorities doing to tackle match-fixing?
In the last eight years I have had many discussions inside UEFA about how to tackle match-fixing and not all my recommendations have been followed up for the full 100 percent.
However, we have won our case against the Albanian Champion Skënderbeu in front of CAS (Court of Arbitration of Sports) last spring. I was UEFA’s prosecutor in that case and I firmly believe our team is now set for more and bigger victories in our battle against match-fixing.
As you know, we have been without an UEFA President for almost a year now. I have read that all new candidates are leading a campaign where the words integrity, transparency and corporate governance are not being used lightly. So I must say I am really looking forward to the announced winds of change as I am convinced modern football can use some more modesty.
I am also convinced some Football Federations take the match-fixing issue a bit more serious than others. We are moving into the right direction but some federations are moving a bit faster than others.
The authorities of course have to work with the criminal law set-up at their disposal which is different in every country. I am also happy that the European countries are being forced by the European Commission to set up a national network against manipulation in sports. That is definitely the way forward but I realize that the centre of gravity will always remain with the police, the magistrates and the investigation judges.
I can’t say anything about FIFA because I hardly had contact with anyone there the last eight years.
Do they have some system to generate early warning systems ?
Yes, we have. The Betting Fraud System of UEFA’s partner Sportradar is working 24/7/365 and has 35 analysts covering more than 65 000 matches a year in 12 different sports. That means they check more than 5 billion datasets of more than 450 betting operators every day (!). Since 2008 they have escalated more than 2470 suspicious games in different sports. Several academic studies have confirmed the accuracy of their system.
When Sportradar think a game is suspicious they will make a very report which we then send to the Footbal Federation in question. I has been sufficiently proven by the study led by Professor David Forrest of the University of Liverpool that the system is extremely thorough in its’ functioning. When Sportradar says a game is fixed, you can bet your money it has indeed been fixed.
Did you had the feeling you could do what should be done during your investigations ?
I do not understand your question here. Nobody has ever been able to stop my efforts if that is what you mean.
Should soccer teams be supported by online casino’s and sport betting industry ? Is this ethical ?
Ethically, there is indeed something to say. Personally I think the sponsoring gets out of hand these days. But on the other hand I am realistic enough to understand we can’t turn back the clock. The free market allows the sportsbetting industry to sponsor, it is up to the Federations, clubs and players to handle this delicate situation in an ethical way.
What turnover are we talking about in worldwide sports betting ?
The estimated turnover on sportsbetting in 2015 was 1,4 trillion Euro. The estimated turnover on the Euro 2016 in France was 67 billion Euro, and I personally think that is an underestimated figure.
Are we losing the match-fixing war ?
No, we are definitely not.
Thank You very much and much appreciated !