Integrity Officers battle match-fixing

Wed, 27 May, 2020

In January 2020, Unibet became the main sponsor of the Swedish Professional Football Leagues (Svensk Elitfotboll - SEF). The partnership aims to combat match-fixing and problem gambling by engaging in league integrity and financing football clubs’ own Integrity Officers.

“Our ambition as the main sponsor of the Allsvenskan and Superettan football leagues is to promote the entire football experience, from league, clubs and players to the supporters and society at large,” says Per Carlander, head of Unibet in Sweden. “In order to succeed, we need to work from a long-term perspective and together take responsibility, contribute to compliance, build credibility, and combat match-fixing, along with problem gaming.”

As a first step toward strengthening the leagues’ integrity, Unibet is sponsoring a number of roles for SEF, dedicated to match-fixing and responsible gaming. In spring 2020, every professional club will also appoint an Integrity Officer as part of their ongoing operations.

“This is a new role where a person close to the business (usually a club’s sporting director) will be on hand to make it easier to stay one step ahead in the fight against match-fixing and problem gambling,” says Per. “This will be done through prevention, education, and being accessible to those in need of support.”

Carlander continues: “It’s important for us to build a structure within the clubs themselves and to activate someone who is close to the players and the coaches. We now have 32 trained, accessible individuals within the clubs. It needs to be incredibly clear to all players and coaches that if you have questions about games, gambling, match-fixing, and the like, this is the person of contact.”

Dedicated training

In addition to general training for all players and coaches in the clubs, each Integrity Officer (IO) will receive dedicated training so they can always remain one step ahead.

“It's proactive work. An Integrity Officer should be able to pick up signals from the squad and management, act on it and work preventively. They should also be available to those who need support,” says Per.

“Today, there is a prominent culture of silence around match-fixing and stigma regarding speaking up. Breaking that barrier can be a big step for the player in question or for a player with information. Contacting someone in management you don’t know well can also be daunting. Talking to someone you meet every day, know and trust, however, is entirely different and is a key element of our work. Talking to an Integrity Officer will allow players to be open and honest, without any stigma involved.”

For Unibet, working with sustainability and integrity is hugely important. The brand places great significance on the fact that customers need to feel secure and have confidence in Unibet.

“For us, integrity is at the heart of everything we do. If you look at our business, the most important thing for the customer is knowing they are playing on well-controlled, safe products, with a high level of integrity. It’s about everything from securing all our games and products, to keeping track of everything we do, including results and follow-ups. If a customer doesn’t feel safe, that customer will go elsewhere,” assures Carlander.

“A big part of integrity is being able to offer matches that people can trust; matches that are decided based on what happens on the pitch. It’s the unpredictability of sport that makes the experience enjoyable. Without it, sport loses its appeal. No one wants to see or attend a match with a pre-determined result. As we see it, match-fixing is by far football’s biggest threat, a much bigger one than doping.”

0% revenue from problem gamblers

Unibet is a part of Kindred Group, which organises a sustainability conference every year and publishes an annual sustainability report.

“We work comprehensively across Kindred Group on how the company can operate sustainably. Sustainability for us is not only following environmental regulations but also a desire to provide customers with a sustainable gambling experience. We aim to have 0% of our revenue from problem gamblers by 2023. We want our customers to have a healthy relationship with gambling and gamble for entertainment only. As soon as we see signs of it being otherwise, we implement the most effective measures for that particular customer,” Per explains.

“We are a fully digital company with very sophisticated systems for analysing customer behaviour. They alert us as soon as a customer diverges from their usual gambling patterns, after which they are contacted immediately. We are following progress toward the target very closely and are on track to reach the target as planned.”

The Swedish Professional Football Leagues’ point person on match-fixing, Anders Wikström, works continuously with proactive and reactive efforts on integrity issues at SEF. With the introduction of club-level Integrity Officers, he will act as a support and sounding board for all 32 local Integrity Officers.

“If you look at the level of player turnover in clubs, it’s difficult for the leagues to ensure that everyone receives an appropriate level of training. However, every club can make sure that everyone completes the training as part of a player’s introduction and welcome to the club,” says Per Carlander.

Recently, a new training programme in anti-match fixing and responsible gambling was introduced and is now being reviewed by all players and coaches in all 32 Allsvenskan and Superettan clubs. It’s based on the rules for match-fixing developed by the Swedish Sports Federation (Riksidrottsförbundet), as well as the new gambling fraud statute that introduced a new gambling law. The law includes forthcoming regulations on prohibiting match-fixing from the Swedish Gambling Authority (Spelinspektionen).

The training is compulsory for all players and managers to complete before the season starts.

“Since entering a partnership with European Football for Development Network (EFDN) in December 2019, we have developed and delivered anti-match fixing training. This was done to ensure that all academy players in all 86 member clubs in EFDN across Europe have heightened awareness among their youth players,” Per explains.

The Swedish Professional Football Leagues together with Unibet, recently launched a collaboration with Karolinska Institutet (KI) to map elite players’ mental health. The results will provide football with a scientific basis to work from when working with players’ overall well-being.

“Getting a description of where the problems are from a scientific perspective and where efforts should be focused is invaluable. If you aren’t feeling well or have problems, it is of the crucial that you get help. The report produced together with KI will give us a good foundation to stand on,” concludes Per Carlander.

You can read the full interview in Swedish here