02.10.2013 – On the 4 February 2013 Europol held a press conference in which it announced the results of Joint Investigation Team on match-fixing in football. More than 380 professional football matches played in Europe between 2008 and 2011 are suspect of being fixed, among which are matches from the most prestige competitions such as the UEFA Champions League.1
This article will focus specifically on the match-fixing situation in Finland. The main emphasis is on the highest level football league, Veikkausliiga. Special attention is paid to shed light on the framework under which match-fixers operate, with the aim to illustrate the realities behind match-fixing from which the general public is mainly unaware of. Several specific aspects favouring match-fixers in Finland will be discussed.
How match-fixing works in general?
In general, the process begins by criminals with money contacting persons with the ability to affect the outcome of a match. Among this group of people are players, referees and club officials. In regard of Finnish football, players have been the most likely to be corrupted. In addition, there have been several occasions where criminals obtained, through sponsoring or purchase of the club, power in a club that they have had their say on crucial questions such as who will or will not be in the starting XI.2 When it comes to the referees, there has not been a single case against them in Finnish football leagues.3 Once one or, as usually is the case, several suitable players have been found by the criminal organisation to fix a match, the type and timing of a fix will be agreed. The game plan on achieving (maximum) profits will be created at this stage.
Betting market4 creates the framework and places several limitations which criminals must take under consideration when creating the game plan for the fix.
Fixers attain the profits they make predominantly through betting market and thus it is crucial to understand the very basic characteristics of it. The relevant geographic market (bookmakers), different types of bets, maximum bet sizes (limits), functioning of the odds in the betting market, and effect of the timing (early, pregame, live) are among the factors from which a short discussion will follow.
Relevant geographic market
In the era of internet and new technologies i.e. smart phones and tablets, potentially anyone can place bets on football matches played anywhere. The same goes with bookmakers; Finnish monopoly bookmaker Veikkaus does not enjoy exclusive rights to offer Finnish football matches for betting but those can be offered freely by any bookmaker online. It is often thought among the general public in Finland that the relevant (and the only) bookmakers offering Finnish football for betting are located in Europe. Many even believe that the only such bookmaker is Veikkaus. That is not the case, however it is rather easy to see the roots of this general misconception. It is commonly thought that customers of foreign bookmakers are purely locals of the country where the bookmaker is established or marketed, or at least from nearby. Further, it is hard to understand why Finnish football, being lower standard of football compared to other leagues around the world, would be followed by people living in Caribbean, Australia, Asia or in any other distant place. However, it is an unavoidable fact that the most relevant bookmakers from the match-fixing point of view in Finland are those of located in Asia.5 This is mostly due to the lucrative nature of Asian betting market (both legal and illegal) – compared with the European based bookmakers (and others as well) the limits are higher and control less rigorous.
Types of bets
As fixers attain the profits through betting, it is also important to consider the range of betting options. Generally the variety of bets available is huge and in respect of the so called bigger leagues6 it is practically possible to bet on anything; e.g. which team will win the flip of coin conducted by the referee in the beginning of the match to determine which team will win the kickoff, how many corner kicks will be awarded for the home team during the first half or will a particular player score in the match. In respect of Finnish football matches the markets are relatively tiny resulting that the bet types and monetary limits7 are more limited than in the bigger leagues. In practice, as fixers tend to aim for high monetary gain, only the bet types with the highest limits are employed. These include Asian handicaps (“AHC”) and Asian style over/under (“O/U”).
In AHC only two options are offered, ideally with 50%/50% probabilities. The differences between more traditional 1X2 (three-way betting) wagering, which refers to betting on home win, a draw or an away win,8 is that there is no third option (draw) and the odds will not get as high or low as they might with an uneven match in 1X2. In AHC the stronger team is given a handicap which it must cover in order for bettors to win their respective bets. It is often not enough that a stronger team wins the match by one goal as it might be required that they win by a larger margin. The same is vice versa true for the weaker team; AHC bets on behalf of the weaker team might be won even if the team loses, but not by too large margin. This is a crucial character to understand; even if team A wins a match, it does not mean that the bribed players of team A have not delivered the wanted result and that the fix would not have been successful.9
In the Asian style O/U two options are offered, in similar fashion as previously described in regard of AHC. There is no third option as in the European style O/U.10 A bettor either places a bet over or under the goal-line, the number of goals scored by both teams in a game as set by the bookmaker. Where the total number of goals equals the goal-line, stakes are refunded. It is also possible to win or lose half a bet and get another half refunded. For the purposes of this article it is not necessary to explain the differences of various O/U lines in depth.11
It is crucial to understand the concept of limits, as it is the determining factor on answering the question of how much money can be made by a fix. For the purposes of this article, “single bet limit” shall be understood as the maximum12 amount of money a customer may invest13 in a single bet on a certain bookmaker. After a bet is processed and confirmed by the bookmaker, the odds might change a little and the customer may bet again with the new odds. This process may be gone through as many times as the customer wishes and thus the concept of single bet limit does not equal to the total sum of money possible to bet on a certain match.14 Also secondary limitations (“total limitation”) exist, determining how much a single customer may bet in whole for a certain match. Total limitations are widely used by the European bookmakers, but generally unknown for the Asian bookmakers.15
Limits vary from bookmaker to bookmaker according to several factors, the most important ones being: 1) type of the bet, 2) competition, 3) timing of the bet, 4) supply factor and 5) customers’ identity. Depending on the bookmaker and the mentioned five factors, a single bet limit usually varies between tens of euros to several thousands of euros.16 It should be noted that in these figures only the legal betting markets are taken into account i.e. excluding the illegal Asian markets in which the volumes are huge and the limits are suspected to be a lot higher.
Highest limits are on AHC and O/U bets and lowest on special bets (e.g. name of the player scoring the first goal). In traditional 1X2 wagering the limits are lower compared with AHC and O/U bets.17
As a rule of thumb, there are always higher limits in higher competitions and the vice versa. Limits for Veikkausliiga, the highest level football league in Finland, matches are higher than those of Ykkönen, the second highest level, which on the other hand has higher limits than Kakkonen, the third highest level. It should be noted that in comparison with the other European leagues, all the Finnish leagues are among the smallest ones in respect of the limits, which might be even hundredfold with the biggest leagues.
Timing of the bet refers to the time when a bet is wagered in respect of the kick of time of the match; it makes a great difference if the bet is wagered a few days before the kickoff (“early”), on the match day (“pregame”) or during the match (“live”). Generally the limits are lowest in early (e.g. 3 days before the kickoff) and highest late on pregame (e.g. 15min before the kickoff) and live.17
Supply factor refers to the global availability of other matches for betting played simultaneously or having the kick off time close to the match of interest. If there is no other, or only a few matches available for betting at the same time, the limits might be higher than they would be during a period of high supply of matches. For example, there are hardly any matches played during Monday mornings18 meanwhile lots of matches take place on Sunday afternoons. If a match takes place on a Monday morning, the chance is it has higher limits than if it would take place on a Sunday afternoon.
Customers’ identity may have great impact on limits. Bookmakers are companies with the main aim of making profit. They are free to choose their customers, and most of them use this freedom to maximize their profits. Once a bookmaker profiles a bettor as a constantly winning professional, he is usually given lower limits compared to the other customers.19 This is what happened for example to Ante Sapina already before he got involved in match fixing. As he was too successful with his bets he got limited. In respect of certain minor sports such as ski jumping and handball his bets were limited to zero.20 Most of the Asian bookmakers do not use the strategy of individual limitations while nearly all of the European bookmakers do.
Functioning of the odds
Odds are the price which must be paid for the chance to win a desired sum if a certain predicted outcome occurs.
Odds are generated in the following manner. The bookmaker estimates the probabilities of the possible outcomes in a match and converts them to odds. During the process the known betting patterns21 are taken into account and the profit margin22 is added. After this the match will be opened for betting with the initial odds. It is practically always necessary for the bookmaker to adjust the odds between the opening and closing time of the markets. The first and foremost reason for that is risk management. Bookmaker wishes to get in a position where the bets would be divided in such a manner that the total payout with any given outcome would be exactly the same or close to that. In such a situation there would be no risk for the bookmaker. In practice once the initial odds are given, they are modified according to the bets wagered i.e. money flow. This is typical of a market reacting to classic supply and demand economics. The phenomenon is in many ways similar to stock exchange; if a majority wishes to sell Nokia’s stocks, the price will decrease and the vice versa. An important question in this regard is how much money needs to be bet on one option to make the odds change a certain amount. This varies on a case by case basis23 and no absolute answer exists. From bookmakers point of view such information is a business secret worth protecting, and they are not normally willing to release any information. However, it is possible for someone knowing the betting markets really well, to provide an estimation. According to a professional Finnish sports bettor, it may be considered as a rule of thumb that by a bet equaling the size of a maximum allowed single bet the decrease in odds will equal four percentages points decrease in the expected profits. This means that the initial decimal odds of 2.00 would decrease to 1.96 (fractional odds: from 1/1 to 24/25 and moneyline odds: from +100 to -104.17).
Special features of Finnish football
In general, the geographical location where a match is played or which competition it is part of has no fundamental value for the match-fixers. All that matters is the level of expected profit and the risks involved. In regard of Finland, the following reasons are the ones that make Finland favourable location for match-fixing: 1) players low salaries, 2) low general interest to football, 3) criminal law with low penalties and 4) league schedules.
The average annual gross salary of full-time employed men in Finland in 2010 was 40.224€.24 That is approximately double what was paid for the football players in Veikkausliiga.25 Generally speaking, the fact that players are poorly paid correlates with the amount of money a player considers as an attractive bribe. There is also a correlation with the probability with which a player will get involved with a fix.
In Finland football does not enjoy such a prestige position as it does almost everywhere else in Europe. Veikkausliiga’s average attendance in 2012 was only 203426, in Ykkönen in 2011 it was 86727 while a lot lower in Kakkonen. Media coverage in Finnish football is moderate. Only Veikkausliiga matches are broadcasted live on TV, and not even close to all of them. In the on-going 2013 season 155 out of 198 matches have been played by 11 September, from which 33 (21%) were broadcasted live on TV and another 15 streamed online. Thus 31 percentage of the matches have been available this far.28 The results of Veikkausliiga matches with short summaries can be found from the pages of largest newspapers. Most often these summaries include nothing in-depth, providing only statistical information and few short sentences about the nature of the match. Ykkönen and Kakkonen matches do not attract even close to that much media attention.
Therefore it is easier to get away with a bad performance done in front of a handful of people than it would be in front of a full crowd of tens of thousands of people. Further, as media coverage is moderate and most matches are not broadcasted, the risk that someone would draw conclusions from a vivid newspaper article or video recording is almost non-existing. There simply is no one to point fingers on players who have performed in a suspecting way on the pitch.
Taking and giving bribes is a business offence in Finland with the maximum penalty of fines and imprisonment for at most four years.29 The Criminal Code was amended in 2011 and the maximum penalties concerning business offences have been increased (maximum imprisonment used to be two years instead of four). The reality is that the penalties given are rather low, as was illustrated by the 2011 Rovaniemen Palloseura Football Club (RoPS) case. Several players got a sentence from the 2008-2011 match-fixing scandal during which the results of 3330 matches were manipulated. All the players got away with only fines and probation in the district court. The longest probation sentence was a year and 8 months. Five out of nine players appealed and their sentences were significantly decreased (by six to eight months each) in the appeal court. It is noteworthy that Chanda Mwaba, a corrupted player getting the highest sentence (one year and eight months’ probation and over 40.000€ assets forfeiture) in the mentioned match-fixing scandal was training and playing friendlies in an Ykkönen club FC Viikingit from December 2012 and left the club only just before the season begun. His suspension from official matches’ ended in April 2013 after which he would have been free to play in Finland and elsewhere.31 Wilson Raj Perumal, the central figure in the world of match-fixing who has fixed hundreds of matches globally “generating hundreds of millions in fraudulent gambling winnings for Asian and European syndicates”32, was found guilty in bribery and sentenced into two years’ imprisonment.33 He served only one year before being released and turned over to Hungarian authorities to answer other pending match-fixing charges.34
The penal sanctions represent one of the main risks for a match-fixer and for a corrupted player. If the sanctions are too low, it is easier to take the risk. In the worst case, the parties might consider the risk non-existing and the temptation to proceed with the fix is overwhelming.
Finnish leagues are played between April and October. That includes the summer period from June to August, during which most of the other European leagues are on a summer break. During the summer period, the limits are generally higher and there is a wide live betting coverage available. This increases the attractiveness of Finnish leagues from the match-fixers’ point of view, as it is generally speaking possible to achieve the same profit with a lower league match than it would be under normal circumstances with a higher league match; naturally the risks involved with the lower league match are lower than those with a higher league match.
How much is there to be made by a fix?
The sum, how much players have been offered and paid for a fix, varies greatly and usually it depends on whom the question is asked from. Often it is the case that the court has obtained only proof of some of the payments, while it seems certain that they are only part of the bigger picture. To get a better picture of the sums offered as bribes to players in Finland, a few illustrative examples follow.
A well-known match-fixer Perumal revealed in the police interrogations that he offered a total of 80.000 euros to be shared among eight Rovaniemen Palloseura Football Club players if they would lose by a specific margin to VPS in a League Cup match on 16 February 2011. The same deal was offered by him in a match played against Tampere United35 (TamU) on 23 February 2011.36 According to Perumal’s testimony, he offered and paid to two AC Oulu (ACO) players a shared sum of 50.000 euros from a single fixed Veikkausliiga match played against Turun Palloseura (TPS) on 22 September 2010.
The Appeal Court ruling from the RoPS scandal, involving a total of 30 matches with a manipulation attempt, included an assets forfeiture varying from one thousand euros to about 40.000 euros per player.37 That was generally the sum that was proven the corrupted players received as bribes. In October 2009 a goal keeper was proposed that he would manipulate the result of a Veikkausliiga match and receive 15.000 euros in return.38
It is nearly impossible to provide an accurate answer on how much money is there for the fixers to profit through betting. According to Perumal’s statements, the average sum invested in bets for a single manipulated match was between half a million and one and a half a million euros.39 The estimation given by the professional bettors is similar, varying from half a million to two million euros.40 According to professional bettors’ estimations, in regard of the fixed matches in Finland, the total profit equals about 80% of the amount of the bets. So being, if one and a half million euros was bet in a fixed match, a profit of 1.2 million euros was achieved. With bets worth of 500.000€ a 400.000€ betting profit was made.
The Football Federation of Finland (SPL) is responsible for creating and updating on an annual basis the Competition Regulation which creates the regulatory framework for all national football leagues. According to the Competition Regulation 201341 betting is prohibited from all football stakeholders, directly and indirectly, in respect of the events that can be considered as stakeholder’s own events. The term football stakeholder is defined loosely and in addition to players, coaches, persons in club management and referees it includes generally all the persons who are in contact with the club on regular basis.42 It is required that a football stakeholder immediately informs SPL of any such contacts in which an attempt aiming to influence a match is made by offering money or other benefits.43 Football stakeholders are prohibited for providing club related information to outsiders from such matters that are not publicly available or are not meant to be publicly available, in the case that the information has betting related value.44
Sanctions for violations are defined in SPL’s Penal Provisions.45 According to it anyone involved in match-fixing may be suspended temporarily from playing or being an official in any match. It is enough if one proposes match-fixing, attempts in any way to manipulate a match or fails to fulfill his or her information duty in this respect. Already a reason to suspect a person from any such violation will suffice. Suspects must be given an opportunity to be heard before a suspension decision.46
Since 1 January 2013 the mandatory Player Contract model has been in force in all national top leagues.47 It includes a section in which gambling and any match-fixing related activities are specifically prohibited. Gambling directly or indirectly for players’ own matches or those of farm teams’ are prohibited. Duty to inform of any match-fixing related contact is extended to cover player’s club. If a player violates these terms, the club has the right to immediately terminate the player contract.48
Since the domestic match-fixing scandal in 2011 several improvements have been included in the previously mentioned documents. The mandatory Player Contract model is already an improvement in itself as it clarifies the situation by creating a set of minimum requirements. In respect of match-fixing the main improvement has been underlining the importance of players’ duty to inform. It is now clearly expressed in both, Competition Regulations and Player Contract Model, and thus the chances that no player goes without acknowledging it are improved. All the activities relating to match-fixing are explicitly prohibited and sanctioned. However, in the practical level it has remained hard for the clubs and/or SPL to obtain the necessary proof to act against the match-fixer. They are largely dependent on the investigations of the police and Europol.
According to Europol, “the biggest ever investigation on suspected football match-fixing in Europe” revealed that in the suspected more than 380 manipulated matches in Europe a total sum of over eight million euros was profited by the match-fixers in betting profits and at least two million euros was paid in corrupt payments.49Among these manipulated matches were matches from the most prestige leagues and also lower league (all Finnish leagues belong to this category) matches and so being the achieved profit has greatly varied depending on the match. The list of suspected matches is not yet published.
There are currently no published details available of Europol’s ongoing investigations and thus it is impossible to draw any final conclusions from the given figures. However, they do reveal something. First and foremost, those figures are terrible low.
As it has been explained earlier, Finnish leagues belong betting-wise to the lowest valued competitions in Europe. So being, the average’s based on Interpol’s figures should be generally above of what the figures are in respect of Finland. Estimations based on the proven cases were provided previously and they tell a totally different story. While an average bribe offered to a single player from a single match was between thousands to tens of thousands of euros and the total bribes offered from a single match as high as 80.000 euros in Finland in some instances, the same average total bribe paid from a fix according to Europol’s findings was only 5.263 euros. This would appear low figure.
In regard to average betting profits, there is a similar difference between the estimated Finnish figures and the Europol’s figures. To illustrate this, let’s consider an example with illustrative figures. Total amount of bets in a single fixed match shall be one million euros, betting profits amount 80% of total bets and a failure rate is 20%. A total of 10 matches are fixed. Now, a total of 10 million euros are bet from which two million are lost due to players’ failure to provide a suitable result or due to other uncontrollable events that may occur. The successfully fixed matches result a betting profit of 6.4 million euros. A total betting profit of 4.4 million euros would be attained. This gives an average of 440.000 euros per match, which is more than twentyfold the figure given by Europol.
Match-fixing is a global problem in football. In respect of Finnish football leagues, there are several factors favouring match-fixers. Players, who have been behind most of the fixes, are poorly paid with the highest level football player’s paycheck being roughly a half of what the rest of the male population is earning. Football does not in overall attract people in Finland; number of spectators is low and media gives hardly any attention to national football leagues. The maximum penal sanctions from match-fixing are low and in practice corrupted players always get away with probation and/or fines. As the example of Chanda Mwaba illustrates, it is even possible to return to Finnish football as a player after being found guilty on match-fixing. The fact that Finnish football leagues are active between June and August, when most of the other European leagues are on a summer break, is another advantageous feature from the match-fixers point of view.
Europol is without doubt one of the leading expert authorities in regard of football related match-fixing worldwide. The press conference on 4 February 2013, in which they published their initial findings concerning match-fixing in Europe and elsewhere, served as a good wakeup call. It is positive that consequently match-fixing in football got a large amount of publicity and thus it may have raised the general awareness. The reality that the problem is hardly new or solved was lost somewhere when the media storm began. The numbers released by Europol seemed impressive in the first hand but more detailed examination suggests they are low.
Antti is in his final semester at the Tallinn Law School. He is currently working on his bachelor’s thesis on the legality of the Finnish sports betting monopoly from the perspective of EU law. Since 2006 he has been analysing football matches and is currently employed as a sports bettor. Antti’s research has primarily been on corruption in sport with a focus on match-fixing and he has authored a paper ‘Realities of football match-fixing – case Finland’.
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