How one firm is striving to ensure the £1.2tn global sports-betting market is free from match-fixing.
Opinion.- “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” The Roman satirist Juvenal first asked nearly 2,000 years ago how it is possible to enforce moral behaviour when the enforcers are themselves corruptible.
In sport, at least, this ancient question of “who watches the officials” is one that went practically unanswered right up until the 21st Century. Perhaps inevitably, it was this relative lack of oversight that the referee Robert Hoyzer was able to exploit when he fixed matches in a 2004 scandal that stunned German football.
With the sums bet on sport now measuring in the trillions of dollars every year, the incentives for criminal elements to seek a corrupt profit are plain. There is no question, however, that the activities of would-be fixers are now coming under close and constant scrutiny.
With it, the risks of detection for corrupt referees, athletes and officials have significantly increased since the Hoyzer scandal. That is in large part due to the launch of Sportradar Integrity Services in 2005. Its bet-monitoring product, the Universal Fraud Detection System (UFDS), is being deployed free of charge and has now been taken up by more than 130 sports federations, leagues and state authorities worldwide.
The UFDS uses artificial intelligence and machine-learning software to filter more than 30bn odds changes every year, from over 800,000 matches across 60 sports and more. This ensures that the suspicious betting patterns that largely accompany sports corruption are highly likely to be detected, whether they occur in the regulated, unregulated or grey betting markets.
Sportradar Integrity Services deploys its global network of human-intelligence contacts to process information on the surface, deep and dark web. It then delivers its findings to its partners in sports federations, clubs, national anti-doping organisations and law-enforcement agencies to support the investigations and due diligence they conduct.
This work has scored several notable successes. Since the start of the UFDS, over 7,100 matches have been identified as suspicious, leading to more than 550 sporting sanctions across seven sports. Its work has also been instrumental in 50 criminal convictions being handed down.
What does this mean for sports betting? It implies that the risk for fixers has grown dramatically during the 18 years since Hoyzer manipulated football matches in 2004. “A big part of our success has been the ability to adapt and innovate as the world of sports betting and match-fixing has continued to evolve over the past 17 years,” explains the unit’s managing director, Andreas Krannich.
“The complex landscape of the global betting market has changed enormously during this period, and on top of that, match-fixers are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the curve to avoid detection,” he says.
The UFDS’s task is to detect all types of suspicious activity by keeping pace with developing threats. Using its market intelligence, sports authorities, leagues and clubs are then able to take steps to protect competitions and stakeholders. “It is a constant challenge,” adds Krannich.
To provide more detail about the global sports-corruption landscape that the sport-technology company is contending with, it has drawn up a comprehensive report detailing the work Sportradar Integrity Services undertook to protect sport in 2021.