Match fixing 'not a big problem' say bookmakers

Betting industry insiders say punters betting on fixed matches would be quickly detected

LAST UPDATED AT 11:58 ON Fri 13 Dec 2013

BOOKMAKERS have denied that match-fixing is a significant problem in English football, claiming that offenders would struggle to make money from corrupt bets.

Graham Sharpe, of William Hill, said that a handful of bets of more than £10 on bookings or red cards would be enough to trigger an investigation.

Blackburn's DJ Campbell was arrested last weekend with five other men after a four-month undercover investigation by The Sun on Sunday.

A separate investigation by The Daily Telegraph in November resulted in the arrests of six other men, including ex-Bolton Wanderers striker, Delroy Facey. And on Wednesday two lower league footballers were charged with defrauding bookmakers.

Here's our guide to the match-fixing arrests and allegations:

What's the difference between match fixing and spot fixing?

Match-fixing, as the name suggests, is just that. Spot-fixing differs, in that it refers to a specific aspect of a match that is fixed. The very nature of spot-fixing makes it very difficult to detect. For instance, it could be something as subtle as the time of the first throw-in or perhaps, as has become evident from The Sun on Sunday investigation, the timing of a yellow card. A player will pre-arrange with third parties to ensure a particular outcome happens, often in return for a cash payment and the third parties make money by placing bets on the outcome of that event.

How serious is it?

Very serious. Not only is it an illegal activity that defrauds bookmakers, it also undermines the integrity of Britain's most popular sport.

The match currently under investigation by the NCA, is the Championship clash between Blackburn and Ipswich that took place last Tuesday; two sides that have competed in the top-tier of English football - the former still playing in the Premier League as recently as this time last year.

Oldham boss Lee Johnson said he was "left sick to his stomach" when he heard that his midfielder, Cristian Montano, had been arrested as part of the NCA investigation. He's not the only one.

The Daily Telegraph's Jim White argues, "The risk of corruption is now everywhere. A plague of parasites is putting the very fabric of the game at risk."

The sports writer refers to the match between Manchester City and QPR that took place on the final day of the 2012-13 season as "the greatest advertisement English football could have produced" because it was a match that "proved that competitive uncertainty remains at the heart of our game."

White adds with worrying brevity: "When Blackburn against Ipswich is one of the fixtures under police investigation then we are in serious trouble."

What is the FA saying?

The Guardian reports that the FA's general secretary, Alex Horne, attended a meeting at Whitehall on Tuesday morning, where he attempted to reassure ministers - including Maria Miller, the secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport - and other senior sports officials, that fixing in the English game is not a "big issue".

After the meeting he told reporters that the FA is "never complacent" on the issue of match-fixing and that the regulatory body "really welcomed the recent impetus from the NCA". However "the intelligence" that the FA has, claims Horne, suggests "this isn't a wide-scale issue at the moment".

What do betting experts think?

They tend to agree with FA. Graham Sharpe, who has worked for William Hill for 42 years, told the BBC that the average bets on yellow and red cards are not hundreds of pounds, they're "fivers and tenners".

He said: "If we saw one bet above the average wager, we'd raise an eyebrow. If we saw two, we'd begin to investigate. Any more than that and we'd have to shut the market."

But what of the Asian markets, the ones where - we're told - much of the corruption takes place?

"I can't think of any way to make money from the information about a yellow card," says Joe Saumarez Smith, a sports betting consultant who specialises in Asian markets. "You cannot bet on a yellow card being given to an individual player or a red card being given to an individual player in Asia. Bookies don't offer odds."

Former Fifa Head of Security, Chris Eaton, says that recent stories appearing in the press regarding spot-fixing are both damaging and misinformed.

"I do think this sort of media story is harmful," he said. "People talk about spot betting as if it's a huge conspiracy but this is just wrong. It's inconsequential in terms of quantum."

What to do about it?

The answer, according to the FA, is the formation of a cross-sport unit that would be dedicated to fighting corruption by providing a rapid response to fixing allegations through a whistle blowing hotline service.

Although some governing bodies already have anonymous hotlines, it is thought that a more centralised reporting system could be a more effective tool, reports The Guardian.

Rick Parry, the former Premier League chief executive, told the paper on Tuesday: "The problem comes when you add the international dimension". He believes that a lot of the problems, particularly in football, "will emanate from Asia".
He added: "In terms of a pan-sports unit [it would] support and help really pool together the co-ordination of the activities of the sports, the betting operators and the police. There is a big opportunity now with the gambling bill going through parliament." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.