Sweden musters strong defence against match-fixing after Allsvenskan scare

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It was thought criminals would not dare attempt to fix a top-level match, but IFK Gothenburg v AIK Stockholm was targeted and the authorities’ response has been swift

22 August ~ On August 10, IFK Gothenburg beat AIK Stockholm 2-1 in a Swedish league match. The game was unusual because it had been postponed three months earlier when police uncovered an attempt to fix the result. In the past few years, Swedish football has been rocked by tales of rigged matches and players being bought.

The commonly held view is that this goes on in the divisions below the top-level Allsvenskan where match-fixers are able to operate more unhindered, an assumption encouraged by the media reporting the secret “players of interest” list in December 2016. A list of players suspected of rigging matches, it was compiled by the Swiss company Sportradar on behalf of UEFA and includes 43 Swedish players. According to the list, as many as eight matches in the second-level Superettan may have been rigged in the 2015 season.

The Allsvenskan, with its position under the spotlight and its relatively well-paid players, was assumed by many to be far too risky a market for shadowy match-fixers. However, the cancelled fixture between IFK Gothenburg and Stockholm’s AIK in May demonstrated not only that the reach of the criminal networks extends even to the highest level of the league pyramid, but that there is a greater readiness to defend the sport and hit back hard than the ordinary spectator on the terraces might have thought.

The decision to cancel the game was the result of an event on May 16, two days before the match was due to take place, when one AIK player (or more) was contacted by a match-fixer offering a large amount of money. Subjecting the player to veiled threats, the fixer wanted him to underperform in return for the cash. The Swedish Football Association (SvFF) was informed of what had happened the following day, and it was decided to cancel the fixture.

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On what would have been the day of the match, SvFF published a press release and held a press conference with the police, the Swedish Elite Football Association (SEF) and AIK, demonstrating a united front and a tough defence. “This is not about a single match. It is a serious attack and an attempted coup against Swedish football. This is something we will never, never accept and therefore it is important to act forcefully,” said Hakan Sjostrand, general secretary of the SvFF. Later he directly addressed the match riggers, saying emphatically: “We will hunt you down with everything we have. We will do all we can to identify you and get rid of you. We don’t want anything to do with you!”

The police, represented by detective inspector Fredrik Gardare, who heads the action group against organised crime in sport, said that a preliminary investigation had been launched, and highlighted improved cooperation between the police, the Swedish Sports Confederation (RF), SvFF and the clubs as a contributory factor behind the rapid and coordinated action and the decisive approach taken.

“This case got off to a good start”, Gardare said. RF chair Bjorn Eriksson agreed, saying:  “We know that serious criminals spot money laundering and earning opportunities in betting on sport. We need better legislation, we need the issue to continue to be seen as a high priority by the Swedish Police Authority, we need tougher controls on sports betting and we need more information being passed on by the gaming companies to the police and sport to give us a chance of fighting back.”

In June the minister for public administration, Ardalan Shekarabi, put forward two concrete proposals to eradicate the problem. The Swedish government is firstly proposing a new provision in the penal code imposing up to six years’ imprisonment for match-fixing crimes, and secondly wants to set up a national gaming agency that could ban betting on events where there is a risk of match-fixing.

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One reason why the match-fixing attempt not only failed but was exposed may be the preventive work that has been going on at clubs for some time now. Over the past few years, the general secretary of Sweden’s players’ association, Magnus Erlingmark, has been telling members that they need to be on the alert and respond instantly with a firm no if they are asked to fix matches.

Another former player, Anders Wikstrom, is working on the issue for the SEF and the national gaming company Svenska Spel, visiting all the clubs in the Allsvenskan and Superettan, and training players and managers on match-fixing and betting responsibility.

This summer, Gothenburg’s Gothia Cup, the biggest and most international youth tournament in the world, followed their examples, sharing Wikstrom’s training sessions with specially invited academy teams in the Tipselit Trophy. RF co-ordinator Johan Claesson is also travelling around Sweden providing information to players, managers and referees. RF also provides an anonymous whistle-blower service on its website.

On August 8, prosecutor Hans-Jorgen Hanstrom announced that two people had been served notice of suspicion of gross bribery. He emphasised that this is an actively ongoing inquiry that may extend further. Mikael Engqvist