An alarming number of matches in juvenile football leagues showed suspicious betting patterns, according to a report made by Starlizard Integrity Services, TXODDS, and Perform Group.
The report analyzed odds movements of almost 54,000 football games played in 2017 to provide information regarding trends of suspicious football betting patterns, which might have stemmed from match-fixing. The study covered more than 500 domestic and international competitions across 90 countries.
The analysis showed that out of 397 matches that showed suspicious betting patterns, 62 are from youth league matches. That figure is 16 percent of all suspected matches, even though youth football matches represent only eight percent of the total matches analyzed.
The report pointed out one anonymous youth league in Europe, in which 22 out of 244 matches showed signs of associations with shady betting markets. The said league showed the highest percentage—nine percent—across all other leagues.
Out of 54,757 matches analyzed, the study found only 0.73 percent of them suspicious. Most came from European leagues with 241 matches, with Asia following behind with 71 games. More than one percent of the 397 international and club team friendly matches analyzed appeared suspect.
The report showed that no high-level matches showed signs of suspicious wagering trends. In an eight-tier classification—with the first one being the most prominent matches—betting patterns in 159 Tier 6 matches were irregular, followed by Tier 8 with 80. Tiers 1, 2, and 3 accounted for only 20 questionable matches.
However, the report does not delve into possible match-fixing allegations that might influence the irrational and suspicious behavior of some wagering odds. According to the report, it only wanted to point out that irregular betting markets still exist.
The report, in the introduction, said:
“The aim of this report is neither to accuse nor make assumptions. It seeks simply to show where football has irregular betting markets associated with it and act as a guide as to where integrity issues might exist from a betting market perspective. No further inferences should be made without further investigation – the findings of this report serve as indicators rather than indictments.”
Jake Marsh, head of integrity at Perform Group, added:
“There will be some concerns from readers over the high percentage of suspicious activity around friendlies and youth matches, but it must be stressed that these are just suspicious patterns, and shouldn’t be construed as conclusive evidence of match fixing. However, it does show that the football authorities need to focus on these areas as well to protect the game.”
According to analysts, these kinds of reports help in protecting the integrity of the game that was marred by various match-fixing scandals.
A Match-Fixing Referee
Most recent of these match-fixing scandals involved a referee that, by proposing to fix one match, lost his place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) in early May handed referee Fahad Al-Mirdasi a lifetime ban from any football-related activity after pitching to teams Al-Ittihad and Al-Faisaly the idea to fix the results of then-upcoming King’s Cup final—Saudi’s cup final contested by both teams on May 12, 2018.
SAFF, in a statement, wrote:
“Following the appointment of the referee, Fahad Al Mirdasi, to manage the match between Al-Ittihad and Al-Faisaly in the Cup final, Mr. Hamad Al-Saniaa, the president of Al-Ittihad club, addressed the Saudi football federation. He confirmed that he had evidence which highlights Al Mirdasi offering help for money.”
Analysts consider Al-Mirdasi as one of the top officials in Saudi Arabia. They also noted that the international footballing officials might have seen him as a trusted referee as well, having appointed him to officiate high-profile football matches including, the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup Third-Place match. With these in mind, the report of a top referee fixing a match came as a surprise.