The number of suspicious football matches globally declined from 2019 to 2020 according to a report by Stats Perform Integrity and Starlizard Integrity Services, although top-tier domestic leagues continue to account for the largest number.

Overall, of the 61,296 matches analysed – 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.

Additionally, friendly matches continued ‘to pose significant issues for football authorities,’ as the number increased from 0.67% to 1.19% with a particular concentration in countries with ‘a historically increased risk of suspicious competitive matches’.

As a result of this, the proposition of suspicious matches peaked in spring 2020 due to a betting focus on friendly matches and lower profile tournaments, before levelling off during autumn as fixture calendar ‘returned to relative normality’ after initial lockdowns.

Starlizard and Stats Perform’s analysis was supported by the latter’s 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.

However, although the audience numbers for women’s football have risen in recent years with increased broadcast media interest, suspicious matches in the space ‘continue to be rare’ with only one identified out of 3,700 games.

Jake Marsh, Stats Perform’s Global Head of Integrity, remarked: “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.”

Although domestic football and friendly games continued to pose issues, the report marks the third successive year that the proportion of suspicious matches has fallen, with Stats Perform and Starlizard investigators identifying 217 matches in 2020 as suspicious .

This represents just 0.35% of the 61,296 matches analysed – representing a reduction in both real and percentage terms from 456 matches in the previous years report, 0.56% of the 80,939 fixtures assessed in 2019.

Additionally, the number of suspicious matches is now less than 50% of the number of games in 2018, the year of Stats Perform and Starlized’s inaugural report, when 0.73% fixtures were categorised as suspicious.

Lastly, 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, commented: “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.”

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