KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Football remains the main target for match-fixers and generalised sports coruption, according to an in-depth report from Europol.

It said the sport’s worldwide popularity and financial dimension means the money generated globally on football betting “outweighs by far any other form of sports betting and is reported to be annually €895bn (estimated annual amount of bet in sports general is €1.69 trillion) .”

Yet, for all the money, some estimates hold that fewer than one per cent of matches a year are suspected of being fixed.

Europol said: “According to UEFA, sports corruption continues to challenge European football, particularly in the lower leagues, and in smaller countries in general.

“In this context, UEFA has witnessed a reduction in reported suspicious matches in certain Eurasian/Caucasian countries and around the Mediterranean, while noticing an increase of reports in countries neighbouring these areas.”

The assessment is that suspicious activity has shifted to unmonitored lower leagues, that the vulnerable ‘high-risk’ leagues are no longer offered for betting, or that the suspicious activity remains difficult to detect.

Europol added: “Criminal match-fixing syndicates appear to have established in-country networks – akin to sleeper cells – where players or referees can be easily ‘activated’ to fix a match as and when needed. These networks remain stable and are not easily disrupted.

“In certain countries where law enforcement operations have been conducted, UEFA has noticed a subsequent reduction in reported suspicious matches.

“Criminals more often target players having a specific role within the team (e.g. goalkeepers, defenders, captain of the team). These players are more ‘valuable’ for match-fixers than others, as a simple mistake can easily lead to the conceding of a goal without raising suspicion.”