Th, 1.06.2023
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Editorial: grand fraud and singed justice

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Photo: Urmas Nemvalts

Estonia is having her very first football betting related court case: 11 men stand accused by Public Prosecutor’s Office in match-fixing and betting fraud. According to accusations, criminal income exceeds €108,000.

To the developed world backdrop, a court case like this is nothing extraordinary, Estonia not thus labelled black sheep – these past years, betting scandals have hit such football greats as Germany, Italy, UK etc. As part of the open world, we’re also facing its dangers.

By the development of technology and globalisation, making all kinds of bets is now child’s play. Yearly betting turnover touches upon €500bn; last year’s World Cup stakes climbed to €20bn; the preceding European Champions League final drew €1bn of stakes from Asia alone. Thus, the huge money beckoning behind a click on the mouse serves to lure crooks; in top sports, betting fraud at times eclipses the very evils of doping. According to Europol data of this February, 380 disputable football games are under investigation; 425 corrupt officials have been disclosed.

Long ago, bets ceased to centre on wins and losses alone. In Asia, for instance, it’s quite widespread to make stakes on how many goals will be scored, on which minute that would happen, when red cards are waved etc. For many a low-level club and unnoticed player, the lure has been there to pocket thousands of easy euros – be it for inside information who will not be playing some certain matches, in a line-up.

The orchestra, however, is being conducted from elsewhere – and there, the income reaches millions. In 2011, Estonian and Latvian national teams fell victim to an agency organising friendlies (with Bulgaria and Bolivia, respectively) where all goals were scored by penalties.

Once a case is uncovered, it is not the player or club only that feel the heat. Damage is done to the national association, more broadly – the game as such. As explained, in Postimees AK of May 5th, 2013 by football journalist Andres Must, betting fraud stings a society hard: «Sports serve to enhance the feeling of unity, forming a foundation stronger than any law. For these reasons, society is especially sensitive to controversy (fraud) happening in sports.»

Betting fraud needs to be dealt with at the grass roots level, already. Experience shows that a finger given for some small money will equal lending a hand to the world of the crime. Punitive policy needs to be severe enough to make players, referees, agents and officials think twice.

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