Just Another EHF European League Match
On October 20th, Swiss club, Kadetten Schaffhausen hosted Denmark’s GOG in an EHF European League Group match. Kadetten won the tight contest, 29-28 when Gabor Csaszar scored a penalty shot with no time remaining.
Just another hard fought European League contest on a jampacked Tuesday evening in the European League. Right? Well, maybe not.
Reports of Match Fixing Surface
The next day it was reported that Sports Books had stopped wagering for the match due to an unusual amount of money being bet on Kadetten.
The odds for the match opened the day before it was played with Kadetten being a slight underdog at 2.05 which then increased to 2.10 before dropping to 1.35 before the match. Below is what that looks like in your preferred betting system.
In practical terms the simplest number to look at is the implied probability which went from Kadetten having a 47.6% chance of victory to a 74.1% chance of victory. Line movements like that are pretty unusual and when they do occur it’s due to something unusual happening like an announcement that a star player has been injured and won’t play. Or, maybe two star players… or maybe the fix is in.
Suspicious Officiating Decisions
Suspicions quickly focused on the Kosavar referees (Arsim Vitaku and Erdoan Vitaku) that officiated the match and some of their calls (or non calls) that were made.
Below is a compilation of some potentially suspicious calls (or non calls) that were made during the match. The first four were discuss by former Danish nation team player, Joachim Boldsen, in this video: Link (Available in Denmark… VPN) and are also referenced by Danish Handball expert Bent Nyegaard in this article: Link The 5th one listed is one that I added after I watched the last few minutes of the match.
And, you can judge for yourself whether the calls are suspicious. Here’s the full match video at ehfTV: Link
- efhTV recording clock (17:05) / Match clock (14:07): GOG Circle Runner, Anders Zachariassen, receives a pass, pivots toward the line… but is called for an offensive foul?
- efhTV recording clock (20:04) / Match clock (17:20): Kaddeten Schaffhausen Left Wing, Sebastian Frimmel appears to step on the line right in front of the official… but there is no whistle for a violation?
- efhTV recording clock (1:00:00) / Match clock (06:20): GOG Circle Runner, Anders Zachariassen, receives a pass, is grabbed on line as he turns to shoot… but the result is a nine meter free throw instead of a penalty shot?
- efhTV recording clock (1:08:44) / Match clock (11:30): Kadetten Schaffhausen fouls Mathias Gidsel as he attacks the goal. Gidsel releases the ball towards the 9 meter spot where the free throw will be taken… but no, this release of the ball by Gidsel is considered to be the actual free throw? Kadetten Schaffhausen picks up the ball and it results in an empty net goal.
- efhTV recording clock (1:31:05) / Match clock (29:00): With the score tied GOG is offense… and Anders Zachariassen backs into a player and is called for an offensive foul?
I’ve asked a few people their impression and as you might expect the opinions are varied. Situations #1 and #3 were seen as judgement calls that were probably wrong, but where the mistake could be rationalized. #2 looks pretty bad, especially where the official is situated… but sometimes you just don’t see something. I’ve seen #4 happen, particularly with officials somehow taking pleasure with educating newcomers to the sport, but I’ve never seen officials allow it at higher levels. #5 I guess is another one of those judgement calls even if it seems pretty ticky-tack.
Each call taken alone doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary. Bad calls happens. But, if one looks at them cumulatively it does raise some eyebrows. Combine those calls with the unusual odds movements and it clearly warrants further investigation.
At Second Glance… Everything is not so Clear
However, as I’ve investigated this match it seems to me that it’s not an open and shut case. If you want an open and shut case think back to the Kuwait – Korea match in 2007 for Olympic Qualification: Link As that match demonstrated, if you’re an official fixing a handball match you can’t just go crazy and start calling everything one way. Well, I guess you can, but you’re going to get caught. Instead, if you’re fixing a match you need to be a bit more discreet and selective.
These officials, if they were fixing the match were fairly discreet. Further, if one puts themselves in the shoes of the officials. Actually, thinks to themselves, “I’m officiating this match and I want to fix it. How should I go about it?” you might well conclude what I did: That these officials were really, really taking their chances.
At least, if one assumes they were fixing the match for a simple “to win” bet for Kadetten they were doing a bad job of fixing it. Seriously, the match went down to the wire and was decided by a penalty shot. If I were officiating a match and wanted to fix it, I wouldn’t leave that to chance. I would instead look for a 2-3 goal cushion.
It’s been pointed out to me that perhaps a handicap or point spread wager had been made instead of a “to win” bet, but that’s something that should be evident to the betting sites. Another possibility that would explain the lack of a cushion would be a tacit arrangement for the officials to just do what they can reasonably do to help Kadetten without raising suspicion. Maybe there are some betting fixers willing to have a “no guarantee” deal like that, but I doubt it.
Strange Phone Calls from Kosovo
Another aspect to the story that was recently reported were dozens of phone calls from Kosovo to the GOG coaching staff and players prior to and after the match. The calls from unknown numbers were ignored, but when finally picked up there was just silence on the other end.
The article suggests that the phone calls were simple harassment, but I immediately wondered if something more nefarious was being attempted. As in some Kosovo fixer trying to get some GOG player on the line to either intimidate or worse offer money in return for some help in altering the match outcome. Having watched portions of the match, however, there doesn’t seem to be anything to support that being a possibility.
More to Come or Brushed to the Side?
According to the Danish reporting, the EHF’s betting monitor Sport Radar did not pick up on anything unusual, but that the EHF indicated that they would further review the match.
GOG Coach, Nicolej Krickau, notes that he’s been contacted by members of the “betting community” with rumors that the Kosovo diaspora around the world making bets on the matches. Something that can’t be confirmed, but supports his suspicions.
Of particular note: Since the match played in October the Kosovar officials have not been assigned yet to another European match. Is that simply due to scheduling? Or, as Krickau suggests is there an intent to hide them away and bring them back after several months and the whole affair has been forgotten?
Time will tell, but the combination of suspect calls and suspect betting patterns suggests to me that we haven’t heard the last on this story.
Reporting Referenced in this Article
- “GOG match is investigated for match fixing” by David Schiøler & Christian Ipsen (21 Oct 2020) Denmark TV2: Link
- “The families of Danish stars received mysterious calls before a suspicious match” by David Schiøler & Lars Bruun-Mortensen (24 Nov 2020) Denmark TV2: Link
- “There are a lot of misconceptions that are very grotesque” by Peter Schulz (24 Nov 2020) Denmark TV3: Link