Stats Perform Integrity and Starlizard Integrity Services have declared a reduction in the number of suspicious football matches during 2020 in their fourth annual joint report, marking the third successive year that the proportion of suspicious matches has fallen.
The investigators identified 217 matches in 2020 as suspicious – 0.35% of the 61,296 matches analyzed – representing a decline in both real and percentage terms from 456 matches in the previous year’s report, 0.56% of the 80,939 fixtures assessed in 2019.
The number of suspicious matches is now less than 50% of the number of games in 2018, the first year of the Stats Perform and Starlizard football report when 0.73% of fixtures were classified as suspicious.
North/Central America was the only continent to register its highest number of suspicious matches so far with six, but its overall proportion remains below the global average at 0.26%. 2,313 matches were analyzed in the region in 2020.
In South America, the number of suspicious matches has risen for the first time despite the number of matches analyzed falling significantly – 24 suspicious matches, 6,883 matches monitored. Both the number and proportion (0.35%) of suspicious matches were back in line with 2018 levels.
Jake Marsh, Global Head of Integrity, Stats Perform, commented: “After four years of publishing this report it is great to see that the analysis continues to generate objective and fact-based insights for football’s governing bodies, integrity stakeholders, and fans alike.
“2020 was an exceptional year for football in how it was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will no doubt be understanding the long-term effects and risks to the sport for several years. Despite the reduction in fixtures in 2020, there was still a very high number of matches that we identified as suspicious and potentially linked to manipulation.
“There are cautious signs for optimism in some areas, but the report shows the risk of match-fixing is ever-present in football, and it is paramount that those protecting the sport are properly equipped to protect the beautiful game.”
Of the 61,296 matches analyzed – 23% less than the number of games investigated in 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – 42% took place at the highest level of domestic football in the country in which they took place, followed by 36% in the respective second tiers.
Friendly matches continued ‘to pose significant issues for football authorities,’ as the number increased from 0.67% to 1.19% with particular attention in countries with ‘a historically increased risk of suspicious competitive matches’.
As a result, the proposition of suspicious matches peaked in spring 2020 due to an increased level of friendly matches and lower profile tournaments, before leveling off during autumn as the calendar ‘returned to relative normality’ after initial lockdowns.
Although the audience for women’s football has risen over the past year with increased broadcast media interest, suspicious matches ‘continue to be rare’ with only one identified out of 3,700 games.
The report also noted that interventions by football authorities and law enforcement across both the men’s and women’s game have ‘preceded significant reductions in suspicious matches’.
Affy Sheikh, Head of Integrity at Starlizard, added: “The COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of football fixtures and the suspension of leagues around the world, resulting in a significant reduction in the number of games played during 2020.
“Worryingly, we have still identified over 200 games that are suspicious in terms of potential match manipulation, and that, we feel, warrant further investigation. Despite the more limited availability of matches due to the pandemic, this suggests that criminals have found new ways and new targets in their attempts to manipulate matches and the betting markets.
“It is imperative that all football stakeholders remain vigilant to the threat of match-fixing at all times and make adequate resources available to keep the sport clean, free from corrupt influence, and to ensure that football fans can enjoy watching an honest and fair game.”
Stats Perform analysis was supported by its network of football association partners, including the FA Women’s Super League (FA WSL), Colombia’s DIMAYOR, and the Dutch top-flight Eredivisie, among others.