Early Warning Prevention
FIFA has set up its own project, designed to protect the integrity of football, namely the Early Warning System GmbH, which monitors the sports betting market all over the world on behalf of FIFA. The company assesses any suspicious movements and, if necessary, immediately warns FIFA. How exactly does the system work? Here is a look behind the scenes.
In the old days, anyone who wanted to place a bet on a football match took his cash to a bookmaker. Nowadays, you can confirm your bet with a simple mouse click via the internet. This procedure has demolished barriers and simplified access to sports betting all around the world. What is more, the opportunities for betting have multiplied over the past few years to the extent that people can place their bets on practically anything and long after kick-off. For instance, who will score the first goal, or who will be shown the yellow card first, or will a losing team manage to turn the score around, or by how many goals will Team A beat Team B?
This brave new world of football betting, however, has its shady side. A number of recent betting scandals connected with football matches prompted FIFA to take the bull by the horns in an effort to protect the integrity of its sport, as dictated by the world governing body’s Statutes. In doing so, FIFA is exercising viable options to do everything in its power to prevent the negative effects of the betting industry on football. On the other hand, it is up to government authorities to prosecute and judge any betting offences that have been committed.
In this connection, a pilot project initiated at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ was set in motion by the company, Early Warning System GmbH (EWS), in Zurich. The trial proved to be useful even though EWS head of strategy Wolfgang Feldner claimed that final competition matches did not show many significant match-rigging characteristics and that the conclusions were therefore limited. In 2007, the FIFA Congress granted EWS a mandate to set up an early warning system with a view to the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
In a nutshell, what happens is that bookmakers warn EWS whenever they notice unusual betting patterns. Unusual movements, for instance, occur when unexpectedly large amounts of money are placed on certain betting outcomes within a short space of time. Such activities automatically arouse the suspicion that some players or officials have perhaps been prevailed upon to manipulate a result.
“Our work also involves preventive action,” explains Feldner. The early warning system is intended to discourage potential swindlers from even attempting to carry out their criminal activities or at least to nip their would-be gains in the bud. Basically, the system is split into three pillars: information is collected, then analysed, after which EWS passes it on to FIFA.
THE THREE PILLARS
EWS works together with government and private betting providers, internet bookmakers, betting exchanges and associations, contracts being concluded with as many partners as possible. The betting providers agree in these contracts to inform EWS of any suspicious betting activities, as a result of which they reap double benefits. Firstly, as EWS warns them of any unusual movements, they can withdraw certain bets from their range and thus reduce their risks and, secondly, the contract shows punters that EWS is an agent that defends the integrity of football. Several hundred providers are already associated with EWS, either directly or indirectly, and the number of adherents is constantly rising. These include all national lotteries and major private betting operators located all around the world.
EWS’s contractual partners can report any irregular movements via a secure system. They themselves give the suspicious activity a certain rating, ranging from mere rumour to acute threat. EWS then assesses the information and if certain criteria are fulfilled, the alarm is sounded according to an established procedure. Because matches can kick-off at any time of the day in various parts of the world, EWS monitors movements practically all around the clock.
Passing on information
If certain activities sound the alarm, EWS immediately contacts FIFA’s Legal Affairs Division. All of the betting operators associated with EWS are immediately instructed to withdraw a certain bet or match from their range of offers. FIFA then has a number of options. It can, for instance, inform the teams involved that their match is being strictly monitored, or it can change the referee and assistants, or, in extreme cases, cancel the match.
ASSOCIATION PILOT TRIAL
At the core of the system is software developed by technician Detlev Zenglein. Zenglein, like Feldner, joined EWS after working for several years for a betting agent. Nowadays, he sits in front of a screen in Zurich and watches football matches while simultaneously keeping an eye on betting movements. “Suspicious bets usually coincide with upcoming matches,” he points out. EWS cannot possibly prevent outright fraud. “There will always be a hint of risk,” explains Feldner, “especially on the grey and black markets.”
The warning system is currently being applied to the preliminary competition of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ and will eventually be implemented for domestic and confederation matches. A pilot project is already being conducted at one member association of FIFA. “Our ultimate aim,” comments Feldner, “is to create awareness of the problems created by sports betting among the associations and confederations.” One of EWS’s strategic goals is to offer its services generally, such as to sports organizations outside football or the IOC, explains CEO Urs Scherrer, a sports law specialist. This is one of two main reasons why EWS was set up outside FIFA. The other reason for EWS’s independence is the legal situation.
Technically, the early warning system could easily be made available to other sports associations, many of which have already declared their interest in using it. EWS is nurturing relations with several sports organisations, exchanging views and acquiring know-how.
Over 100 qualifying matches for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ have so far been monitored, none of which produced any significant betting movements. All the more reason, warns Feldner, not to shrug off the inherent threat. “It would make sense,” comments Feldner, “for FIFA to extend the system to other competitions in future.”
Later this year, EWS and FIFA will be holding a symposium at which the associations, betting agents, clubs, sponsors and the media will be given the opportunity to exchange views and ideas. Both Wolfgang Feldner and Detlev Zenglein earnestly hope that EWS’s work is safeguarding FIFA’s matches from any form of manipulation by betting crooks.