The World Cup is approaching and FIFA needs your help to ensure Brazil 2014 does not get remembered as the match-fixing World Cup. Jacek Wojdyla tells Gaming Intelligence about FIFA’s Early Warning System and how the industry can help.

FIFA has over 400 operators signed up to assist with the fight against match-fixing. It also has agreements in place with regulators such as the Isle of Man Gambling Supervision Commission, Malta’s Lotteries & Gaming Authority, the Gibraltar Gambling Commission and the UK Gambling Commission. However, it needs more help.

“We want to find more partners prior to the World Cup to make our system even more effective,” says Jacek Wojdyla of FIFA subsidiary Early Warning System (EWS).

With over 200 operators registered by the UK Gambling Commission alone and thousands more operating worldwide, FIFA has some way to go to secure the coverage it feels would make the World Cup 100 per cent secure - and even that might prove impossible.

“We can cover the legal market and also the grey market but the black market is a challenging area, which we cannot cover,” says Wojdyla. “But match-fixing has been done in legal markets. It is essential to get as much information as possible in these markets.”

Wojdyla points to two 2011 friendlies held in the Turkish resort of Antalya, which ended with Bulgaria and Estonia playing out a 2-2 draw and Latvia beating Bolivia 2-1. All seven goals were scored from the penalty spot.

Data obtained from betting operators showed at least $6.9m (£4.3m) was wagered on the Estonia v Bulgaria match. Officials from all four national teams complained to FIFA, which asked the federations for help in its investigation. The officials have been charged and one of the Asian organisers has since been arrested and imprisoned.

However, the regular criticism of systems such as EWS and UEFA’s fraud detection system, which is run by a private company, Betradar, is that they cannot touch the real culprits running match-fixing in Asia.

“In European jurisdictions the market is quite regulated,” admits Wojdyla. “It is completely different to Asia. You have risk management, know-your-customer principles….there is a very high level of transparency so less risk of match-fixing but still the legal operators in Europe provide us with irregularities which they see on their accounts.”

Wojdyla says EWS takes a neutral view on jurisdictions. It wants to provide as broad a coverage as possible. That said, he is keen to broaden the coverage in Asia, where EWS has some relationships but there is “room for improvement”.

“Of course, match-fixing is very difficult to prove but we see on a regular basis, information sent to us, where there is uncertainty about whether a match is a clean match.”
“Every operator can be hit,” he warns. “Some have better internal structures in place and are less vulnerable but every market can be hit by this problem.”

The three pillar strategy
EWS was first tested at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and then put into full use in 2007. Its primary focus is FIFA tournaments. The World Cup is, of course, the flagship tournament but EWS has also been used at women’s tournaments, youth tournaments, the Beach Soccer World Cup, the Olympics and the Confederations Cup. It is also offered to member associations and has been adopted by Japan’s J-League, Central America’s Concacaf and others.

The EWS monitoring strategy is based around three central pillars: its technical system, which monitors and analyses the global betting market; its relationships with operators and regulators; and its vast network of informal contacts such as professional punters, journalists or service providers, who can provide information on various markets but in particular, on events in the Asian betting market.

Bookmaker partners agree to share suspicious betting patterns with EWS via a secure communications platform or via more prosaic means such as telephone or email. EWS maintains a regular flow of information with traders, compliance officers or risk managers. Operators might report particularly heavy betting on particular matches or particularly heavy betting from certain regions.

“We are not interested in customer accounts,” says Wojdyla. “Operators can retain sensitive customer data. We are interested in suspicious matches.”

Wojdyla makes it clear that FIFA does not expect match-fixing at the World Cup. The huge media exposure makes it difficult for potential match-fixers. For players and officials alike it is the pinnacle of their career and something they do not want to be tainted by match-fixing allegations. Besides, with a good performance on the biggest stage, players can secure a transfer that would likely be as lucrative as any bribe to fix a match.

However, there is a risk that participants might be corrupted ahead of a meaningless game at the end of the group stage. When there is nothing to play for, money could become a motivation. A huge amount of money will be wagered during the World Cup so it is very attractive to criminal organisations.

EWS monitored the  2010 World Cup in South Africa and there was no suspicious matches reported. However, the online gaming market has grown since then and the risk of match-fixing is also thought to have grown.

“The system has proved to be very effective,” concludes Wojdyla. “We think we are in a good position for the World Cup.”

But he wants to make sure of it. And to do that, he needs your help.

For further information contact:
Early Warning System GmbH
Badenerstrasse 141
CH-8004 Zurich
Telephone +41 44 388 81 60