Panel Topic: Football Integrity: Now and Future
Panel Members: Affy Sheikh, Head of Starlizard Integrity Services; Emilio Garcia Silvero, Chief Legal and Compliance Officer – FIFA; Alexander Bielefeld, Director Global Policy & Strategic Relations – FIFPRO; Matthijs Withagen, Director of Legal and Governance Affairs – Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF)
“Football without integrity doesn’t matter. How do we protect the integrity of football?” asked Affy Sheik. His company, Starlizard, has identified 1529 suspicious matches over five years. “The match-fixers are great at identifying players’s weaknesses, particularly organised crime. Finding out what makes people vulnerable is important in combating it.” He added that few players have failed drugs tests in recent years.
Matthijs Withagen quoted statistics from Sportradar. “They have detected over 1200 suspicious matches across different sports in 92 countries across 5 different continents,” he said. “There is a growing problem in basketball.” In football, 52% of suspicious matches came in third tier or lower matches. Alexander Bielefeld said the issue of integrity is wider than match fixing and doping, “It is also about abuse-including online abuse, workload, head injuries.” He added, “Players who haven’t been paid their salaries are more vulnerable to match fixing.”
Withagen agreed that non-payment of salaries is a big issue. “This is one of the main challenges. If a player doesn’t get his or her salary paid they are more vulnerable to engage in these kind of practices.” Emilio Garcia Silvero agreed with Bielefeld that the concept of integrity needs to be expanded. “Integrity was a match-fixing issue,” he said. “Over the last 5/6 years we have seen the expansion of integrity. Doping, racism and sexual harassment are also part of the integrity of the game.” He continued: “Integrity also means multiple ownership of clubs competing in the same competitions.”
Withagen said that SAFF have produced an app which anyone can use to report suspicions around integrity. He stressed that education of players, officials and staff was essential to protect the integrity of the game. This included working with players on the influence of social media. Bielefeld said that FIFPRO are working with FIFA on player work load. “There is training, matches, travel, international matches-players don’t get enough rest,” he said. “No-one really cares about their career paths. We need safeguards to protect off season periods for players in particular.”
Sheik returned to the topic of match-fixing. “The idea that you can contact a footballer through social media…if match-fixers can get hold of former players they tend to be more convincing.” “We have heard from retired match-fixers how easy it is…that no-one has turned down the money on offer”.
“There have been a number of high-profile intentional yellow cards lately…a referee insisting on a goal being scored.”
As for the future, Garcia Silvero said: “There are two vital points going forward. Sexual harassment and financial integrity. We are dealing with sexual harassment across the world. The second point is financial transparency within the international transfer of players.”
Sheik said: “Regarding match-fixing, I’d like to see more, and better, investigations. More witnesses. An international football integrity agency? Addressing the issues that lead players to match-fix is vital.”