First of all, this is excellent news. The announcement yesterday by UEFA that they are actually holding their own judicial inquiry into a Champions League match is the best news in the battle against corruption in football for some time. It is one of the initiatives that I have been pressing for since the publication of the book.
Does it go far enough? No. But Michel Platini in his declaration that “match-fixing is the most serious problem facing the sport” shows that he understands exactly the nature of the problem.
Before we go any further: a declaration. In October, at their invitation, I met with UEFA officials and discussed their proposal for a new investigation unit. I did not accept any money from them, except for travel expenses, but at the end of the meeting, it was felt by both sides that it was too early in the process to work together.
A couple of points:
It is obvious that UEFA have picked on an obscure game from a relatively obscure league and country. No insult to the Macedonians but the revelation that there may be fixing in Macedonia will not come as a great surprise to anyone. However, this is, hopefully, the first case of a series of high-profile investigations. UEFA cannot afford to fail too publicly in their first case against match-fixing. They must choose the case that they have greatest chance of success to proceed with first.
Two, the performance of the FK Pobeda game, if it was fixed, does follow an increasingly common practice in fixing matches. The fixers are trying to maximize profit on the gambling market. In the book, I show some of my research into how players and referees perform fixed matches. For example, I identify a pattern of goals being scored early in the game to establish the fix. When I began the research I thought the results would be the exact opposite: fixes would happen in the last ten minutes of the game. After all the cliché is the crooked players or referee trying frantically to score an own goal or give away a penalty in the last few minutes. But the data indicates that for successful fixes the players and referees want to get it done quickly so will try to give away goals as early in the game as possible.
However, recently fixers have been moving towards another pattern where one team will score their goals in the first half, with the other team score their goals in the second half. The growth of this phenomenon is because of a relatively new trend of live betting on matches, so the fixers can make money betting on both the half-time score and the full-time score. This can increase their profit in a massive way. Of course, this is not conclusive proof that the FK Pobeda game was fixed — only the UEFA tribunal on April 17 will be able to determine that one way or another.
Finally, if this news is “a good start”, what more can UEFA do to stop match-fixing? I will deal with that issue in a blog posting next week.