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Wednesday, 11 December 2019 10:59

In sport, as in life, data helps to keep the arena clean

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In sport, as in life, data helps to keep the arena clean Image by Phillip Kofler from Pixabay

As summer progresses and sport occupies the mind, for the majority it is a time to sit back and relax. But not for Sportradar, a company that uses data analytics in cleaning up fraud in Australian sport and maintaining integrity. This is a time of heightened activity for the company.

All the major codes in the country use Sportradar's Fraud Detection System to track match-fixing. Oscar Brodkin, director of the company's Intelligence and Investigation Services, told iTWire that while fraud in sport came in different forms, match-fixing was the most common type.

In an email interview, Brodkin provided detailed answers to some queries about the extent to which his organisation was involved in detecting issues in sport and the extent to which unfair practices were present in sport.

iTWire: What types of fraud are prevalent in sport today?

Oscar Brodkin: There’s actually surprising diversity in the types of fraud prevalent in sport and it’s evolving all the time. The most common type – and the one the public will be most familiar with – is match-fixing i.e. the manipulation of the course or result of a sporting contest. A match can be fixed for betting purposes (financial), sporting purposes (e.g. league position) or even political purposes (reputation protection).

For example, age-cheating in youth competitions is extremely prevalent, especially when there are large monetary rewards available for the winning team. In a similar vein, there have also been cases of nationality-cheating, whereby a national team will adopt a foreign player contrary to the rules.

Doping also exists in almost every sport from athletics to weightlifting, and even e-sports. Similar to match-fixing, when the rewards outweigh the risks, amateur and even professional athletes will be tempted to gain an advantage by taking performance enhancing drugs.

Finally, there is also a great deal of procurement and purchasing fraud, with some rogue administrators stealing or misusing funds designated for their sport or federation. Since 2004, Sportradar Integrity Services has been tailoring its products to detect, investigate and educate on all these types of fraud with major success.

How does one collect data about sportsmen who have not yet come into the sport? They could be corrupt and then change their behaviour when they make it to a national team, isn't it?

It is true that not every instance of fraud can be detected immediately, or in this case predicted ahead of time. However, having processes in place to conduct robust due diligence on sportspeople who enter the sport is vital.

For instance, which agent signed the players? Is the sportsperson related or very close friends with a match-fixer? On the other hand, it is also difficult to read a sportsperson’s mind and often one has to wait for the initial signs of match-fixing, doping or other infractions.

Indeed, history has taught us that such sportspeople almost never commit one violation and ‘retire’ and thus, the subsequent contraventions become easier to spot. The aim though, is certainly to detect and nip the fraud at the initial entrance level, followed by once the sportsperson has entered professional competition, well before it reaches the national level. In any event, match-fixers or dopers tend to ply their trade at the lower level first as a test for more international events.

At Sportradar, we are using machine learning to look at the prediction markers for fraud across different sports. With time and improvements to this technology, our models will be able to indicate that a match will be fixed before the betting market has even been published. In the same way, we are testing performance modelling to highlight over-performance caused by doping.

How can analytics help enable Australian sporting bodies (cricket, soccer, AFL, basketball, rugby) and the esports industry to make high-stakes decisions by finding weak spots, potential issues and threats to their sport and business?

Sportradar’s Fraud Detection System (FDS) has been detecting match-fixing for over 15 years and these very specific betting analytics are one of the best ways for sports to detect whether their sport faces a match-fixing issue. In fact, Australian sport without question is the most advanced country in the world at combating this issue.

All of the major sports in Australia (NRL, AFL, FFA, Cricket, Rugby and Tennis Australia, etc.) currently use our FDS but we also provide risk assessments to the government so they know where best to allocate resources when it comes to match-fixing prevention. This is an exemplar for other sports and countries to follow.

For other types of fraud, the same model applies and we are providing analytics, intelligence led testing and risk assessments for National Anti-Doping Organizations (NADOs) around the world. Again, not surprisingly, The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority’s (ASADA) reputation in the marketplace is outstanding. Australian sport will undoubtedly continue what it’s doing – using market leading analytics from companies such as Sportradar, dedicating the appropriate resources to fight the problem and finally creating the framework where every box is ticked in the anti-corruption space from detection, to investigation, to prosecution. The recent announcement of ‘Sporting Integrity Australia’ is a fantastic step.

How does one overcome issues such as match-fixing, doping and ensuring that due diligence, risk and compliance are met and adhered to?

It is critical for sports federations and bodies to recognise that as the global sports market continues to scale, they also become more susceptible to integrity-related threats. Greed is inconceivably part of human nature and as such, infractions such as match-fixing, doping and compliance fraud will always occur in sports. However, it is clear from countless successful cases around the world that policing and prevention in equal measure, is the way forward in combating this.

Policing includes monitoring, detection, investigation and prosecution. In the ideal model, much of these are conducted by a person or organisation independent of the sport itself so as to prevent any perceived or real conflicts of interest. As part of this, a knowledgeable and committed law enforcement partner is advised for assistance in any criminal matters, all of which currently exist in Australia.

With regards to due diligence, risk and compliance, one can never be too careful. For instance, Sportradar’s Intelligence & Investigation Services vet scouts, transfers, sponsors, administrators, doping control officers and even committee members on a regular basis, with some leading to investigations.

Prevention, which includes education and disruption is the other side of the coin. If players are informed of the rules and have regular exposure and access to materials about the dangers of corruption, the Integrity Unit is able to disrupt attempts at foul play and consequently, the number of issues decrease.

Finally, the single biggest factor in corruption issues in a sport is wages. If players and administrators are paid on time, they have little reason to contravene the rules. Naturally, there will always be bad actors, but by taking care of this step, the pool can be reduced.

What are some examples of the work Sportradar has done in data integrity with sporting bodies? (e.g. in tennis, soccer and basketball, etc.)

Sportradar’s Fraud Detection System and its Intelligence & Investigation Services have either been responsible or played a role in the following related to match-fixing and anti-corruption. A full list of Sportradar’s partners and references can also be accessed here:

  • Total arrests Over 230
  • Total charged 93
  • Total convictions 25
  • Total sporting sanctions 321
  • Expert witness 28

We are privileged to work with over 80 organisations across 20 sports and have had countless successes across many of these sports. Some highlights include:

  • Assisting AFC in one of the largest sanctions in the history of football with 22 Laotians and Cambodians were banned for life for match-fixing.
  • Assisting FIFA in the banning of referee Joseph Lamptey who fixed a high profile World Cup Qualification match between South Africa and Senegal.
  • Sportradar’s FDS spotted anomalies in an Italian Volleyball game which led to the five-year suspension of Real Gioia president Vito Nicola Giordano.
  • Sportradar’s FDS detected fixing by Filipino darts player Gilbert Ulang with our Intelligence & Investigation Services connecting the dots from Ulang to punters.
  • In a very similar case, Sportradar assisted WPBSA in proving David John fixed a match and was connected to the punters who knew he would lose.
  • Sportradar, FFA and Victoria Police worked in great partnership to uncover and complete a thorough match-fixing investigation into transnational organised criminal match-fixing in Australia.

In terms of recent key partnerships:

  • Our esports deal with Riot Games will ensure protection for the world’s biggest esports company.
  • Our partnership with CCES in Canada is another example of a nation taking integrity seriously with a top-down approach.
  • The US integrity partnerships with the NFL, NBA, USL, NASCAR and NHL show that the US is now on a par with Australia in terms of willingness and ‘teeth’ to protect their sports.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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