The Greatest Case of Commercial Blindness in the History of Sports Integrity

There are all kinds of examples of inappropriate blindness. There was Captain Smith of the SS Titanic not seeing the iceberg. There was Admiral Nelson putting the telescope to his eye patch not to see the signal to retreat. There was Johnny Papalia the mafia thug who beat up the head of Toronto’s illegal gambling racket in front of two-hundred people in a crowded restaurant and when the police arrived none of the patrons said they saw anything.

Then there is FIFA’s Early Warning System (EWS) a gambling monitoring company designed to spot match-fixing. Yet in all the time they worked for FIFA, they never managed to see one fixed match. Never in their uneventful career did they ever gather the world’s media together and announced that they had successfully accomplished their mission.

So let us be very clear, FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s decision to replace the Early Warning System (EWS) with SportsRadar is a good thing.

EWS was always an odd, feeble ghost of an organization. Set up in 2005 as a ‘private company’ it was run by a pal of Sepp Blatter. Its principal customer was FIFA. Its undistinguished record of never discovering a fixed match occurred at a time when other gambling monitoring companies were uncovering dozens of cases, and more significantly, European Police forces were showing that hundreds of soccer matches had been fixed.

Their failure goes down as the greatest case of commercial blindness in the history of sports integrity. Even the ancient Romans were willing to jeer the all-powerful Emperor Nero when he fixed their chariot races, and those spectators faced the wrath of the Praetorian Guard.

SportRadar, on the other hand, is a credible company that does good work. It has been bloodied in dozens of legal cases around the world. When I was testifying in a match-fixing case in Greece in 2011, their fingerprints were all over the difficult prosecution case. Their work like many other companies in the billion-dollar sports gambling monitoring industry is straight-forward. They study the odds movements in the gambling market to see if there is anything unusual – like fixing – that is occurring in a sports event.

So having a reputable gambling monitoring company like SportRadar is a good first step in protecting the integrity of sports. However, there are still a number of weakness in relying only on SportRadar as FIFA’s integrity monitors.

Ghost Fixing and Toxic Sausages

The first is that monitoring companies are only as good as their weakest link. Across the industry there have been consistent cases of ‘ghost fixing’ where relatively low-paid monitors go to obscure games and make up the results. In fairness, SportsRadar has no known cases of their low-level employees going rogue, but the point is that if ghost-fixing is done successfully it will never be detected.

The second issue is who pays SportRadar? FIFA. It is in FIFA’s commercial interests not to reveal if any of their matches are fixed. The proper analogy is the meat-packing plant that is producing toxic sausages: the management does not want to produce bad sausages, but they really do not want their customers to know that their sausages are bad. So why would SportRadar announce publicly if they discovered fixing and irritate their client? No insult to SportRadar or FIFA, but this is a conflict of interest. To cut through this issue, two things should be done.

One, there should be a public list – available on the Internet – of FIFA matches or tournaments red-flagged by SportRadar. This would ensure that pressure is kept on the organizers of tournaments.

Two, SportRadar’s most-irritating rival – Federbet – should also be charged with checking SportRadar’s work. Nothing – given the sometimes bitter personal relationship between some of their companies executives – could motive SportRadar more. If Federbet were to discover a genuine suspicious match, they would red-flag it publicly and get to embarrass SportRadar.

SportRadar has produced numerous public warnings of the extent of match-fixing in sports.

Small Matches in Small Markets

However, these points cover up the real issue: gambling monitoring is only good for small games in small leagues or small tournaments. To be fair, part of the reason why EWS never discovered any fixing in football was that it is almost impossible to spot unusual betting patterns in a World Cup match. The gambling market is measured in billions of dollars making any monitoring of odds movements practically useless.

FIFA needs to do two more things, along with hiring SportsRadar, to properly guard it’s integrity. It needs a well-funded and independent integrity department. SportRadar’s people cannot investigate the Asian, Latin American or North American (AFC, COMEMBOL, CONCACAF) or other continental associations, were corruption that helped fixing was shown to exist. FIFA integrity officials could – potentially – have that power.

In reality, it is very unlikely that FIFA will properly equip its own integrity or ethics officials to do this job. So football also needs an independent, international ethics association. Ideally, it should be housed in WADA (whose recent work on Russian doping was excellent).

Another Alphabet Soup Organization

There is another organization that is circling slowly around this issue: the Qataris and their laughable attempts to get the policing of sports integrity placed into their hands.

No joke – although to newcomers into this field it must sound like one – the Qatari sports establishment has launched yet another alphabet soup of a sports integrity organization – SIGA (Sports Integrity Global Alliance) – to eventually replace the group they founded a few years ago – ICSS (International Centre for Sports Security) – which seems in an organizational tailspin.

Last week,  SIGA held a conference which was attended by the usual crowd of the – mostly – hopeless, clueless or principle-less consultants, academics and vague sports-organizations-that-few-have-heard-of. At the moment, the only useful purpose that SIGA serves is identifying who are these people and groups. The reason for my contempt for these Qatari-backed “sports integrity” organizations is that they have their own blindness problems. After all the speeches at all their  conferences they still have not investigated the Qatari’s own Mohammed bin Hammam or dealt with the issue of thousands of allegedly trafficked workers suffering human rights abuses who are building the Qatari World Cup infrastructure. It is good to see that SIGA is largely ignored by the Olympic movement and major football associations. Sports integrity really does not need such an organization, we have already had to endure EWS for far too long.


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Comments (13)

  • Francois Thomazeau Reply

    Good stuff, Declan, agree 100 pc.

    February 10, 2017 at 12:00 pm
  • Ron McCormack Reply

    Great article Declan. I would love to see exactly how FIFA remunerates Sportradar? Based on what they find or what they don’t find?

    February 10, 2017 at 12:44 pm
  • Declan Hill Reply

    Hi Ron, To be fair, FIFA’s move to SportsRadar is a much, much better move than keeping EWS. What is needed now is a way for the public to see how they are performing. Posting red-flagged games and tournaments is the way to go. Cheers, Declan

    February 10, 2017 at 1:07 pm
  • Declan Hill Reply

    Hi Kevin.

    Thanks for the post and your article. Great work!

    Interestingly the match features a number of features that my doctoral research showed as being statistically significant in indicating a fixed match.

    All good wishes


    Tuesday, December 6, 2016, 10:15 by Kevin Azzopardi
    FIFA integrity officials in Malta as Lithuania betting probe gathers momentum

    Officials from FIFA’s integrity office are currently in Malta to ramp up investigations into the 2018 World Cup qualifier between Lithuania and Malta.

    The Group F encounter, played in Vilnius on October 11 and won 2-0 by the host side, raised alarm due to abnormal betting activity, prompting the world football body to launch a probe.

    It is understood that the FIFA officials are willing to speak to the players who have been called up to the Malta squad for recent international games as well as national coach Pietro Ghedin and team officials as part of their expanding investigation.

    The FIFA delegation is expected to make a second visit to Malta in the coming months to continue with their inquiries and one-on-one interviews.

    Officials from the Malta Football Association are understood to have made all the necessary arrangements to facilitate the work of the FIFA investigators during their stay here this week.

    Local police are holding a separate probe into the Lithuania-Malta qualifier after receiving an official request from the Malta FA to investigate match-fixing allegations in light of FIFA’s warning about irregular betting.

    The Times of Malta had broken the story that Malta’s qualifier against Lithuania had been deemed suspicious after FIFA detected abnormal betting patterns under its Early Warning System (EWS).

    This newspaper reported at the time that, faced with such scenario, FIFA had instructed Paolo Rondelli, the match commissioner for the Lithuania-Malta qualifier, to warn both teams as well as referee Jesus Gil Manzano about the findings of the EWS.

    Rondelli walked into the teams’ dressing rooms a few minutes before kick-off and read out a short statement issued by FIFA.

    Norman Darmanin Demajo, the Malta FA president, had confirmed at a news conference that the report drawn up by Sportradar, the local football body’s Swiss-based betting-monitoring partners who also work for UEFA, concluded that there was “overwhelming evidence” that bettors had prior knowledge Malta were going to lose their match against Lithuania with a margin of two goals or more.

    Darmanin Demajo also revealed that, according to the Sportradar dossier, betting on the Lithuania-Malta qualifier persisted until 20 minutes before the end of the game.

    After a goalless first half, Lithuania scored twice in the final 15 minutes to secure a 2-0 victory.

    Malta finished the game with 10 men after defender Jonathan Caruana was sent off in the closing stages.

    Lithuania, who crashed to a 4-0 defeat away to Slovakia in their last qualifier, have five points after four games while Malta have yet to open their account.

    Malta, who suffered a 1-0 defeat at home to Slovenia in their last Group F outing last month, resume their World Cup qualifying campaign with a home match against Slovakia on March 26.

    February 13, 2017 at 4:25 pm
  • a friend Reply

    I am know legitimated to reply to your statement about EWS.
    Your blog about EWS proved that you have a chronic blidness to differentiate on sensitive legal matters with regard to betting monitoring. In my opinion (not only mine) you seek for publicity like Federbet or even more like Sportradar and its “super” german sales man A.K.

    If you would have professionally researched, you would know that EWS followed a strict non disclosure policy (dictated by FIFA) about detected supiscious football matches…for good legal reasons, as you can not acuse teams, players with no sound proof points. However, you can use technical indicators (suspiscious odds movements) to trigger a comprehensive investigation, ideally followed by a disciplinary proceeding. And this was exactly the mandate of EWS. MONITOR, DETECT, REPORT suspicious betting activities… no more no less! To be more precise: EWS has likely reported HUNDRED of games throughout 10 years!

    The problem is another one (and you should know as a good investigator): what have FIFA and its member done with the information from EWS?? Honestly speaking: (with some exceptions) NOTHING! either due to lack of interest, resources or incompetency in sport integrity matters.

    In summary: EWS has detected the same games like other monitoring bodies with the difference that it has never published such indicative information media-effective, it took its mandate from FIFA always very seriously. The EWS project has been terminated by the new FIFA administration for questionnable reasons…??!! (note: there is a company which has a lot of power in the sport integrity environment)

    looking forward to your reply, thanks

    August 30, 2017 at 9:16 am
  • a friend and inside man Reply

    please reply here to keep transparency for everybody… I guess you won’t reach anybody anymore on the email indicated…

    August 30, 2017 at 10:02 am
  • Robert Reply

    reply to your post February 13, 2017 at 4:25 pm:

    as you have admitted that the match Lithuania vs Malta was suspicious based on your “doctoral” research, you completetely missed to refer as well to FIFA EWS.

    who do you think has initially alerted FIFA on that game immediately???? FIFA EWS (SR has not seen anything based on its “calculated odds” model)

    FIFA EWS has applied a new statistical model considering a range of relevant factors!

    its a pity they did not have the chance to further develop this system. all the analyst and data scientist took the know-how away. there was no knowledge transfer to FIFA and SR.

    August 30, 2017 at 3:26 pm
  • Declan Hill Reply

    Dear Friend and Inside Man,

    Good to hear from you. Apologies for the late reply. Have been away from my desk and only just got to your notes.

    Couple of small points but lets start with the big issue.

    Prove it.

    Come on guys. You are hiding behind your non-disclosed names to say something that could be true or false.

    I say that FIFA’s EWS never publicly red-flagged a fixed match despite the police detecting hundreds of fixed matches.

    You agree with me but say – effectively – ‘We red-flagged the matches but our bosses never did anything with the information.’

    Okay – show me. E-mail a place and time. I will meet you. You can show me all your proof. I will not use your names or locations. I will write an article about your evidence. I would be happy to do so. So just let me know when/where we can meet and I am on for it.

    As for the small points. Please do read the article again you will see that I am not a salesperson for any sports betting monitoring agency.

    Looking forward to our meeting and you proving both your courage and your claims.

    All good wishes,


    November 13, 2017 at 9:51 pm
  • a friend Reply

    Dear Mr Hill
    Thanks for your reply. (I prefer to stay anonymous for good reasons).

    First let’s be clear that it is 100% true what I am saying in my previous comment. Believe it or not!

    Here some logical reasons: I am happy to repeat it again, FIFA EWS was owned by FIFA, FIFA was not a customer. It was – call it – an independent department of FIFA directly reporting to FIFA’s (incompetent) integrity function. Consequently, FIFA EWS did not have competency to disclose any information to media. That does not mean that they do not have detected potentially fixed matches. And why shouldn’t they? Following odds patterns is not a science. It is a simple method to identify betting irregularities. I agree with you that its primary focus was on FIFA tournaments and logically there is normally nothing to report; but its system covered automatically other games as well….but let’s leave the technical stuff aside.

    The shut down of FIFA EWS was not a good decision as you said, it was a pure political decision. Who do you think was bringing Sport Radar in to UEFA that time? Come on, it is so obvious that Blatters legacy shall be replaced with the ego of another man from the canton Valais.

    This allows me to ask the key question: how many football matches that SR will detect as suspicious in the future will FIFA announce to the media? (assuming that SR can not independently announce anything without FIFAs permission under this deal. And please do not mix up with reports on suspiscious matches from individual deals between SR and national football bodies).

    I was disappointed to read such an article from an investigative journalist celebrating the new deal between FIFA and SR and discrediting FIFA EWS and its staff without sound research.
    Thank you.

    Ps. Although it makes sense for me to comment on this, I don’t think it is worth to meet up, it’s all over anyway.

    December 19, 2017 at 3:17 pm
  • a freind Reply

    I guess you know the content and read the EWS extract of the analysis:

    waiting for your Statement….

    January 31, 2018 at 4:10 am
  • Declan Hill Reply

    Dear Robert or Freind (Sic),

    I stand by what I said about EWS. I stand by my comments about you: a coward who hides behind a false name (which he cannot spell properly). I stand by my invitation to you. Meet me. Show me the proof of what you claim.

    As for CAS report on the World Cup game. Proves my point.

    My guess is that you have been a bureaucrat for too long. You are happier hiding than you are doing something. You are living proof as to why EWS failed.

    All good wishes,


    January 31, 2018 at 6:58 pm
  • a freind Reply

    Dear Declan

    (Don’t destract from the topic with pointing on wrong spelling)

    You stand by wait you said? Do you remember your preliminary story? here we are:
    “….Then there is FIFA’s Early Warning System (EWS) a gambling monitoring company designed to spot match-fixing. Yet in all the time they worked for FIFA, they never managed to see one fixed match. Never in their uneventful career did they ever gather the world’s media together and announced that they had successfully accomplished their mission…..”

    The recent CAS case (pages 4-6 etc.) just refuted your story and proved my lines. POINT!

    Additionally I would like to refer to another of your questionable statements:
    “….One, there should be a public list – available on the Internet – of FIFA matches or tournaments red-flagged by SportRadar. This would ensure that pressure is kept on the organizers of tournaments….”

    How naiv and legally delicate to demand for such an approach. Disclosing red flagged matches purely on betting odds analysis…??!! Imagine how big the list woud be after each match day considering the many factors for irregularities…. And how disturbing for particluar clubs to be under general suspicion. Sorry, this just proves again your blindness on this topic and craziness.

    Thanks! I wish you all the best making the world (and FIFA) a better place.

    A freind..;))

    Ps. Stop adoring SR, they do not give a shit on football, they want to make deals and use integrity as a USP.

    February 5, 2018 at 3:23 am

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