Having had responsibilities for refereeing in international handball, and generally being concerned about the risks for match fixing, I have tried to keep somewhat informed about existing betting practices. There are many legal firms in the field of sports betting, and while handball may not be one of their most popular sports, it certainly draws some attention, particularly at the time of the Olympic Games.
However, the real risks in terms of match fixing and a serious impact on our sport come through illegal gambling. Many of you have undoubtedly heard stories about numerous conspiracies that have been uncovered, for instance in the world of soccer, both at the elite level and at very modest levels. Even so, many fans of handball may remain rather ignorant or naïve regarding the possible impact also in our sport.
So I want to share with you that about two weeks ago I was contacted by someone whose name seemed a bit ‘muddled’ and whose firm did not sound like one of the established ones. He claimed to have been directed to me by someone unnamed in international handball who knows me. This may or may not be true. But the purpose was to get my help in coming up with ideas for interesting aspects of a handball game that could serve as a basis for betting.
I was obviously not about to enter into such a collaboration, but I was curious about the whole thing; therefore I pretended not to understand and asked for some explanations of what was meant. So, before I politely indicated that I was not interested, I was then given some examples of what ideas the person already had. I will share these examples below and also include some similar ones that I have come up with myself.
Established betting firms typically accept bets primarily on the final results of a specific game or, in the case of the Olympics, the final winners on the men’s and women’s side. To add some more variations, they may add betting on the goal difference in the final result, the half-time result, which team will first reach 5 or 10 goals, the best individual goal scorers etc. Manipulation of some of these aspects would clearly involve manipulation of the final result of a game or an event.
But what I found was that, beyond what had ever occurred to me, there would be many aspects of a game which would be quite harmless as regards the result of the game, and therefore also would lend themselves much more easily to manipulation that would never be suspected or detected, simply because the impact would not matter very much. So this might seem more innocent in a way, but as long as there are people who are interested in betting money on some of these strange things, then clearly the opportunities and the risks for manipulation by players, officials and referees will increase.
For instance, what would you think about betting on which TEAM will be the first one to request a team time-out, will get the first throw-in, will make the first faulty substitution, will be the first one called for entering the goal area of the opponents, or will be the first one to be shown the forewarning signal for passive play? And would you be prepared to bet on which individual PLAYER will be the first one to get a yellow card, the first one to be called for too many steps, the first one to miss (or save) a 7-meter throw etc. Or would you prefer to speculate about the exact time for the first or last goal of the game, or perhaps the total number of 7-meters awarded or the number of offensive fouls called??
Some of these ideas seem quite mind-boggling; who would take a pleasure in risking some money on that? And could there really be so much money involved that this would be lucrative business for an illegal betting firm or make them prepared to take the risk of ‘convincing’ participants to become involved in manipulation? It may seem difficult to believe, but when there is easy money to be made by unscrupulous people, then everything is possible. And again, the experience from other sports really does make me think that perhaps it is not so farfetched after all.
In my recent interview with the new EHF President, he felt reasonably confident that their protective measures are adequate. And I also hope that we can trust our elite players and referees to have integrity and not be prepared to put their careers at stake. But in several other sports they have said the same thing and have still been proven wrong. So let us be aware and be vigilant!