Players at the WU17 finals in Iceland have been educated to "just say no" to match-fixing after a presentation underlining this widespread threat to football's integrity.
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Match-fixing isn't just some far-fetched, far-flung scenario involving referees and the mafia – well, it can be, but it is also a real and present danger for footballers everywhere. That was the message from Emilio García, head of disciplinary and integrity at UEFA, to the players and referees at the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship.
Indeed the phenomenon is so widespread that García could point to recent cases in the United Kingdom, Austria, Australia, Estonia, Spain and Latvia, besides recounting the more fantastical yet sadly true tale of a referee's involvement with organised crime.
It was enough to catch the attention of the competing teams at the WU17 finals in Iceland, where García gave each of the eight squads a 30-minute briefing dedicated to match-fixing prevention, with clear instructions to 'Recognise, Reject and Report'. The UEFA official's words that "match-fixing nowadays, unfortunately, is part of football" were borne out by his presentation of examples affecting real competitive fixtures.
If that begs the question 'why', the answer is always the same according to García, who explained how traditional sports-related match-fixing has been supplemented, possibly eclipsed even, by betting-related match-fixing. The startling figure of €1bn bet worldwide on last month's UEFA Champions League final in Berlin, from an annual football-betting total of €400bn, attests to the capacity of the betting markets.
For this reason UEFA's Betting Fraud Detection System monitors betting patterns for every match in its competitions as well as for all those in the top two professional divisions of each of UEFA's 54 member national associations. That amounts to some 32,000 games a year. Yet proving cases can be more difficult than merely identifying them, García revealed, which is why UEFA's recent memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with European Union law enforcement agency Europol is so important.
UEFA's e-learning portal for players, referees and coaches is another tool in the fight against the phenomenon. However, the players themselves have a personal responsibility to guarantee the integrity of their competitions and the WU17 starlets were urged to "just say no" if they had a case in the future – "you have to report the incident – failing to do so is a disciplinary offence".
Because match-fixers need somebody on the field of play, García advised the girls both on how to deal with any approach and on how to report any incident. He also listed the potential consequence and penalties for involvement in such a plot, including a red card for life for guilty parties.
If García's purpose in Reykjavik was education and prevention, the girls' job is going to be all about the three Rs of 'Recognise, Reject and Report' – because, in the words of UEFA President Michel Platini, "at kick-off nobody knows how the game will end, but if we change that we lose everything".