Illegal gambling up in Asia, as match-fixing takes a dive

NEW DELHI • Asia has seen a sharp decline in match-fixing over the last six years, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and its integrity partner said, though illicit gambling has grown thanks partly to the use of cryptocurrencies as a payment method.

Swiss-based Sportradar has been a key ally in the AFC's fight against corruption since 2013 and the tie-up will run through to the 2023 Asian Cup in China after being renewed last month.

Match-fixing is driven by illegal gambling, a market which Transparency International estimated in 2018 was worth some US$400 billion (S$557 billion) in Asia.

"Since 2013, we have witnessed a significant reduction in the number of match-fixing related incidences," Benoit Pasquier, AFC general counsel and director of legal affairs, told Reuters by e-mail.

"Sportradar has been pivotal in driving the decrease in overall figures for illicit activity... From 2016 we've witnessed a decline in match-fixing across Asia by 21 per cent and with our efforts in tandem with Sportradar, the preventive measures we've introduced have produced positive results."

Gambling is technically illegal across large parts of Asia, including the five most populous nations: China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Pasquier said monitoring integrity across Asia was "deeply challenging" because of the cultural and sporting diversity.

Low wages were one of the main reasons match-fixing was a significant threat in Asia, said Oscar Brodkin, director of intelligence and investigation services at Sportradar.

He added: "Player wages in Asia are generally lower compared to places such as Europe but, paired with the growing viewership of football in the region, leads to higher stakes allowed on the betting market and thus the opportunity for large-scale fraud."

Before 2013, a handful of large global syndicates operated "with all the bells and whistles of an organised crime syndicate", said Brodkin.

It is a different scenario today.

  • $557b 

  • An estimate of the size of the Asia illegal betting market in 2018 by graft watchdog Transparency International.

"With key figures being imprisoned or disrupted and very high-profile cases being discussed in the media, match-fixing over the last five years has become much more fragmented," he explained.

"There are now more lone wolves, with local gangs and syndicates more common. And yet, throughout this time, particularly from 2009, betting amounts have become larger. Match-fixing has evolved from a pastime or side hustle into a business."

The financing aspect had also evolved as "traditional payments from financial institutions and wire transfers have switched to methods like cryptocurrencies, or even payment in kind", he added.

The AFC has also made it easier for fans, players and officials to report match-fixing suspicions by launching a mobile app in 2017.

Following the renewal of the partnership, the app will be upgraded to allow for the reporting of cases of doping, bullying and harassment.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2020, with the headline 'Illegal gambling up in Asia, as match-fixing takes a dive'. Print Edition | Subscribe