Europol’s dramatic announcement today that 425 players and officials are suspected of involvement in fixing 380 games over the last five years generating €8m of betting profits and €2m of illicit payments has caused a stir. But as presented so far, there’s something not quite right about it. Taken at face value, the average payment to fixers (players and officials) is €4706 and the average payment per game fixed is €5263. These must be pretty insignificant games if the players involved think it worthwhile to risk their livelihood for such sums.
According to Deloitte the average Premier League wage (£1.4 million per year) works out at about €35,000 per game, and even in the Championship (£320,000 per year) the average pay per game equals around €8000. But to fix a game effectively you need to include the best players (you don’t need to fix bad players to lose- they do anyway). Why would someone risk losing such as fantastic living for such (relatively) tiny sums? Realistically bribing enough of the “right” players (who also happen to be bent) to lose a game in the Championship would have to cost at least €25,000 and possibly much more, certainly more than suggested by the Interpol figures.
Of course, it could be the referees, who are paid much less. But even though they can award dodgy penalties, their power to deliver the fix is much lower. Remember also that for a fix to be profitable you usually need to make the very unlikely happen (you need your return to be a decent multiple of your stake) – so I would guess a bent ref could deliver the required result less than 50% of the time (in other words, a dodgy penalty isn’t much use when the other team is 3-0 up).
It may be that it is not the win that is being fixed but some other aspect that could be fixed. So to take a purely hypothetical example, when Young Boys of Berne played Tottenham in the 2010/11 Champions League qualifying round and lost 4-0 at White Hart Lane, maybe the fix was that if they were losing, they should lose by four or more goals. Or even, it might be a spot fix such as the number of corners conceded. But the more complicated the bet, the less likely to generate the revenue (after all, if you were a serious gambler, wouldn’t you have heard of spot fixing and avoid that kind of bet?).
Anyway, Europol certainly appear to have upset FIFA and UEFA by not making them privy to their investigations until now. The governing bodies are now in a difficult position, because they have long claimed that match fixing is a very serious problem that needs attention but have also claimed that their actions have been mitigating the problem. Even David Conn, who can usually be relied upon to trumpet scandal in the football world, is casting some doubt on Europol’s credibility.
It’s certainly seems odd to contrast the figures above with the claim made last month by Ronald Noble, Europol boss, that “hundreds of billions” is being generated by illegal gambling. The fact is that no one really knows how much illegal gambling there is. For the time being Europol should get the benefit of the doubt. We’ve not been presented with much evidence yet, and maybe Europol knows more than they’re telling us.
But at least the solution to the problem should be crystal clear. Legal bookmakers make a very good living out of legal gambling and want nothing to do with fixing, which ultimately destroys their business. The problems arise out of betting from regions where gambling is illegal- notably India. If the Indian government could be persuaded to legalize betting then a lot of the problems would go away.