By Mike Collett
MANCHESTER England (Reuters) - Between 60 and 80 countries have reported allegations of match-fixing for each of the last three years, the head of the Interpol-FIFA initiative set up to fight the crime said on Wednesday.
John Abbott, who is also leading Interpol's and FIFA's fight against irregular betting, told delegates at the Soccerex Global Convention that far tougher legislation is needed worldwide to fight the crime.
"It is a global problem and it is showing no signs of abating.
"Match-fixing itself is not new, a Liverpool-Manchester United game was fixed in the early years of the 20th century, but the really big change is that professional criminals have got involved for fraud purposes.
"We have evidence of organized crime groups in China, Russia, the Balkans, the United States and Italy making substantial money.
Abbott claimed billions of dollars were involved, adding: "Sports governing bodies and football associations need to get real about prevention.
"Many sports, of course, are affected by match-fixing, but football, the global game, is top of the league and cricket is second.
"The extent of the problem is that each year for the last three years between 60 and 80 countries have reported allegations of match-fixing.
"We need better legislation throughout the world, but I don't think we will ever have one global law covering match-fixing but all the authorities need to work closer with each other to stop it happening."
During the same debate, entitled "Fixing Football's Dark Side", Emanuel Medeiros, the head of the Qatar-based International Centre for Sport Security, told delegates at least one professional European soccer club is being run by an organized crime syndicate through a front company.
"I have evidence that this is the case but I cannot say which club or which country although these are legitimate questions," he told reporters afterwards.
"This not new, we have been aware of these kinds of developments since 2003 but there is an ongoing police investigation. It’s a very serious matter."
Medeiros, the former chief executive of the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL), told reporters after the debate that all sport needed "a wake up call" and could not be complacent about the threat that match-fixing and irregular betting could have if it was not tackled.
"It is no longer a silent cancer. It is widespread and very evident that this is a deadly cancer for sport.
"I am here to issue a wake-up call to the political authorities and sports movements to work with those whose responsibility is to investigate these crimes.
"Sport must govern itself properly and positive developments have been made in the last decade but we urgently need a unified, credible, concerted effort now.
"It’s not acceptable that sporting fraud is considered a crime in only five European countries. We need concrete, robust regulation of the sports betting market which at the moment does not exist.
"We need better regulation, good governance, enhanced prevention and education and a serious international approach. Only if we do these (things) can we put an end to football being dragged into shame."
The session included the signing of an agreement between Sportradar, which monitors the world’s betting industry, identifying fraud and unusual patterns of behavior, and the Hong Kong FA.
Mark Sutcliffe, Hong Kong FA chief executive, said he was horrified to discover an Under-16 invitational friendly tournament in Hong Kong was being targeted by match-fixers.
"If it is infiltrating that level of the game at that age group, it does not bear thinking about," he said.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)