Match fixing is a threat to the integrity of our sport and the HKFA takes it very seriously. To illustrate this point we recently ran a series of workshops for all HK Premier League and 1st Division teams. The workshops were presented by Sportradar our integrity partner. Sportradar is an international Fraud Prevention and Monitoring Company that specializes in identifying fixed matches and match fixers. Sportradar has a contract with the AFC to monitor all 1st and 2nd tier league matches across all 47 Member Associations of the HKFA. In addition to that the HKFA has a separate contract with them to monitor our Reserve Division and to present the workshops to players and officials.
Sportradar has very sophisticated betting monitoring systems and they follow over 550 legitimate betting sites and over 5 billion data sets daily. Mathematical algorithms trigger alarms if betting patterns deviate from the norm. I won’t go into detail but basically their systems are so robust that many match fixers have been convicted on the basis of their evidence.
If we receive an alert from Sportradar regarding an ‘ESCALATED’ match i.e. one that has been fixed, the information is routinely passed to the law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong. As recent arrests and previous convictions prove, there really is no place to hide anymore. If you fix, you will be found out, reported and investigated. As our players, coaches and officials heard from Sportradar at the briefings, being found guilty of match fixing will lead to an automatic life ban from football as well as more serious consequences such as imprisonment.
The emphasis of the workshops was on education and prevention. More often than not players are the victim and they are ‘hooked into’ this type of thing by unscrupulous criminals. Once involved in this type of activity it is almost impossible to back out because players (and their families) are blackmailed and threatened by people who had previously pretended to be their friend. Players and officials were taught how to recognize an approach from match fixers and what to do if it happens.
Match fixing is a world-wide sports problem and not just football. However Hong Kong football is identified as being particularly susceptible because Asia is the heart of the problem, players are paid relatively poorly compared to some other places and our matches are offered by betting sites all over the world.
The figures involved in betting on sport are mind-boggling and are the route of the problem. The world-wide sports betting market is worth 12.9 trillion HK$ per annum. That’s 12.9 million million or 12,900,000,000,000! Of that 7.8 trillion HK$ is bet on football, 70% of which is in Asia. It’s illegal to bet on HK football in Hong Kong however, the HK Premier League attracts global betting of HK$1.8 billion each season, that’s HK$25.6m per match! And that’s only the regulated betting market. Estimates vary but the unregulated betting market (including under the table betting in Hong Kong) is estimated to be worth at least as much again. Perhaps it’s time to legalise betting on HK football in HK so it’s easier to monitor and so a percentage of the revenue could be used to combat the problem, but that’s a discussion for another time.
It’s no wonder that with such vast sums involved, match ‘manipulation’ attracts the criminal fraternity. With over 65 ‘in-play’ bets, you don’t even need to fix the result. You can bet on the total number of goals, the half time score, the number of corners, the number of bookings etc. There was even the famous case of an English international being paid to ensure there was a throw in during the first minute of the match. It failed by the way.
This problem is not going to go away so the HKFA must be vigilant and proactive. We believe that the partnership with Sportradar and the compulsory workshops demonstrate our commitment to combatting match fixing but more importantly to protecting our players and officials.
Mark Sutcliffe, CEO November 2017