Match-Fixing at Record Levels in 2021 as Global Sports Betting Revenues Hit $1.6T

Match-fixing was back in vogue in 2021, rising in line with global sports betting revenues, which exceeded $1.6 trillion for the first time. That’s according to a new report by Swiss data analytics and integrity firm Sportradar, titled Betting Corruption and Match-fixing in 2021. It makes for grim reading.

Soccer had the highest frequency of suspicious matches at a rate of one in every 201 globally, followed by esports and basketball. (Image: Reuters)
Soccer had the highest frequency of suspicious matches at a rate of one in every 201 globally, followed by esports and basketball. (Image: Reuters)

Sportradar’s Universal Fraud Detection System (UFDS) monitored more than 500,000 sporting contests in 2021. It found 903 suspicious incidents across ten sports in 76 countries worldwide. It’s the highest number of suspicious incidents in one year since Sportradar began monitoring matches 17 years ago.

There had been hopes that match-fixing was on the wane.

Last year, despite concerns that the COVID pandemic would exacerbate the problem, sports integrity firms Stats Perform and Starlizard reported that suspicious soccer incidents in 2020 had fallen globally on the previous year.

Match-Fixing and the Pandemic

The cancellation of elite sporting events meant fewer games were played in 2020. But the two firms’ figures of 217 (0.35%) red flags in 61,296 matches represented a reduction in both real and percentage terms on the 456 (0.56%) in the previous year’s report.

This chimed with the feelings of Benoit Pasquier, general counsel and director of legal affairs for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). He told Reuters that match-fixing used to be controlled by a small number of large crime syndicates in Asia, many of which had been broken up by law enforcement agencies.

Concerns that the economic pressures of the pandemic would render players, referees, and coaches more susceptible to corruption proved to be overblown, at least in 2020.

Meanwhile, the sudden focus on obscure sports like Russian table tennis failed to provide the opportunity for fixers that some had predicted. With the money of the world’s sports bettors riding on the few events that had not been canceled, there were fears fixers would be able to corrupt their poorly paid participants.

Instead, it appears the pandemic provided major logistical problems for match-fixers by shifting the betting focus to a small number of countries, amid widespread lockdowns and travel restrictions.

$182M in Winnings Bets

It may have been a bad year for fixers in 2020, but it seems they were chomping at the bit to get back in the action.

Sportradar estimates that more than $182 million was generated in match-fixing profit in 2021.

Soccer had the highest frequency of suspicious matches at a rate of one in every 201 fixtures globally, although these were significantly confined to lower-level competitions. Esports was the second-most corrupt sport, with one in every 384 contests flagged, followed by basketball, with one in every 498.

“There is no easy short-term solution to the match-fixing issue, and we’re likely to see similar numbers of suspicious matches in 2022, if not more,” said Andreas Krannich, managing director of Sportradar Integrity Services, in a statement. “As the market has developed, so the threat of match-fixing has evolved.”

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