Can AFC’s new deal help end perception that Asia is a hub for match-fixing?

Data firm Sportradar to monitor top leagues for suspicious betting patterns

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2016, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2016, 12:30pm

Could the perception that Asia is a hub for match-fixing soon change? That’s the hope of the Asian Football Confederation, after they signed a deal with data company Sportradar to monitor the top-flight domestic leagues of all 47 member countries for suspicious betting patterns.

The deal, signed at the end of January, will see Sportradar expand its coverage from the AFC’s own competitions – about 300 matches per year – to some 4,500.

Asia has long been seen as a major hub for match-fixing, with two of the world’s most notorious fixers, Wilson Raj Perumal and Dan Tan, operating out of Singapore.

Under their previous deal with the AFC, Sportradar’s information has helped lead to punishments in match-fixing scandals involving Australia’s Southern Stars FC, Nepal’s international team and in Hong Kong, where Croatian player Sasa Mus was jailed for helping to fix a game while playing for Happy Valley.

While there’s no doubt that many of the big players in the illegal betting and match-fixing world are based in Asia, a spokesman for Sportradar said the perception that Asian leagues themselves were more susceptible to match-fixing may not be true – though he admitted sufficient data has not been available before the new deal.

“When we talk about match-fixing globally, especially soccer, no country is really that immune to this problem,” said Sportradar’s Alex Inglot. “It might occur at different levels in different countries because it depends on meeting of circumstances: there needs to be liquidity in global betting markets, players who are vulnerable or underpaid or irregularly paid or naive.

“We’ve seen with Perumal, he was asked why he targeted Finland – he said, ‘I like a league that most people instinctively assume is clean.’ Asia gets a bad reputation in this area because a lot of the fixed bets are being placed in Asia because of the conditions of the Asian [betting] landscape, [but we’re] not convinced it is a problem that is particularly bad in Asia.

“To be blunt, it’s difficult to say because we’ve never had this kind of scope in coverage in Asia – maybe in six to 18 months we’ll have a better sense of how Asia compares to other areas we monitor.”

Sportradar’s fraud detection system analyses data from around 450 sources – bookmakers, betting exchanges, spread betting firms, state lotteries, etc – around the world. Around 5 billion data sets a day enter their system, says Inglot, and these are filtered by algorithms to highlight suspicious patterns that could point to fixing. In-house analysts and freelance journalists examine those alerts to rule out those down to explainable phenomena such as injured players, freak weather conditions, etc. Any alerts that remain are passed on to sporting authorities.

To be blunt, it’s difficult to say because we’ve never had this kind of scope in coverage in Asia – maybe in six to 18 months we’ll have a better sense of how Asia compares to other areas we monitor
Alex Inglot

Sportradar makes its money in part by providing data to bookmakers for live betting etc, leading to claims by some that they may be subject to conflicts of interest; some have claimed that a recent scandal involving corrupt tennis umpires may even have been facilitated by the live scoring system Sportradar employs with the International Tennis Federation.

“We’re quite a big global company with a number of big business verticals,” says Inglot. “Security is one of those. Every year we lose money in security services, the reason we can continue to do that is other parts of the business can cover the losses because other parts are profitable.

“This perceived conflict of interest doesn’t really exist, we offer a whole range of services to the bookmaker industry which includes scheduling, statistics, odds suggestions, resulting, risk management – but the reality is security services is very clearly delineated and separated from rest of business. None of the information we generate, none of the conclusions, reports, ever get through to anybody in the betting industry ... the only people who benefit are law enforcement and sports stakeholders.

“The feeling that Sportradar’s involvement in tennis has brought gambling into the world of tennis and perverted a beautiful game is a caricature to be honest – before our deal betting existed on all levels of tennis. Not only did it exist but you had an unregulated betting landscape ... anyone betting on tennis before our deal was doing so in a very unstable, unpredictable environment.”