Match-fixing in the Modern Sports World

Jun 14, 2024

By Gage Roberts, of the University of West Florida

The ongoing rise of sports gambling in modern society raises many concerns for the negative impact it can generate.

A colossal money-making entity that relies on seemingly unpredictable outcomes of sporting events undeniably opens the door for illegal and unjust activity. The most prevalent being match-fixing.

Match-fixing is a tactic in which individuals who have an influence on the outcome of a game use that influence to dictate a desired result in order to win a potential wager. With the monumental rise of sports gambling, match-fixing has risen along with it.

In 2023, 1,329 suspicious matches were detected by Sportradar. Spanning over 100 countries, match-fixing is growing rapidly.

Nicholas Raudenski is a former homeland security agent who has worked alongside FIFA in the battle against international match-fixing. He was recently appointed as Head of the Fight Against Technological Fraud by the Union Cycliste Internationale. 

“We basically cannot find a sport across the globe that hasn’t been subject to fixing on a global scale,” Raudenski said. “We’re up against a significant threat.”

Last year, in one of the largest soccer scandals in recent history, Brazilian state prosecutors charged 16 people, seven of whom were players, with alleged match-fixing and illegal betting. Charging documents indicated that a criminal gang paid players to sway matches in ways that would win big payouts from placed wagers.

A common trait that all human beings share is an ability to be influenced. When outside forces approach athletes with an opportunity to make big money, it’s an offer most find hard to turn down. Especially when all they are being asked to do is slightly alter their play in a way that sways the final score towards specific betting lines.

Professional sports have been prone to this problem for a long time, but many believe it has the potential to seep its way into the college game in a big and dangerous way.

The NCAA’s relatively new name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules allow for athletes to legally receive financial compensation. While NIL provides student athletes with great opportunities, there seems to be a hole in the system that could open the door for match-fixers to get involved.

Tim Donaghy, a former NBA referee who served 15 months in prison after being caught in a gambling scandal, believes that the NCAA is “ripe for a major problem.”

“Not everyone is getting this NIL money,” says Donaghy. “Somebody is going to offer them a large sum of money to win a game, but not win by what the point spread is.”

In other words, athletes in lower-level collegiate athletics who aren’t receiving high NIL dollars, or athletes who don’t see a future for themselves at the professional level, could be potential targets for organized crime figures to fix and sway games to favor the betting lines.

For a kid just trying to make their way through college, receiving a handsome payment is understandably enticing. In their minds, they are not breaking any rules if they score a few less points than usual as long as their team still wins the game.

Donaghy continued, “I think you’re going to find someone who is going to do that for a sum of money to where they can help support their family because down the road, they aren’t going to be one of these players that is going to make money at the professional level.”

Identifying and combatting match-fixing is no easy task, but major organizations have shown a commitment to implementing monitoring systems to detect suspicious gambling activity that are potentially related to the manipulation of sporting events. The Olympics, for example, are doing just that with their Olympic Movement Unit on the Prevention of the Manipulation of Competitions (OM Unit PMC).

The OM Unit PMC is implementing its Integrity Betting Intelligence System (IBIS) to conduct around the clock monitoring on all sports betting activities during the Olympic Games. The IBIS will be in affect this summer for the Olympics in Paris.

While match-fixing presents problems for the integrity and fairness of sports, the integration of highly advanced monitoring systems that are bound to see even more advancement over time, is a prime example of the sports world not being content with allowing it to continue without a fight.

If successful, it is fair to assume that countless other sporting organizations will follow in the Olympics footsteps.

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