More than 12% of athletes have played in a match that was fixed, while nearly 15% suspect they have, according to the findings of a European survey published today by researchers at University of Limerick (UL).

The survey, with more than 600 participants across six member states, reported that nearly 15% of respondents had been asked to fix a match within the last year with nearly 40% of participants reporting that club officials were the most likely to instigate the illicit act.

The findings of the Fix the Fixing: Proactive Quelling of Sports Events Manipulation project was launched nationally by Ireland South MEP Seán Kelly at UL today.

“Match-fixing is an international phenomenon often linked to criminal networks. Ireland is not immune to this threat which has rocked the very foundations on which sport is based. The European Commission has been actively developing initiatives to combat match-fixing; if we fail to act sport viewership, spectatorship and participation are all at risk. In Ireland, we are passionate about watching sport, perhaps more than we love doing it, and people won’t watch sports if they perceive them to be fixed. It is not knowing what will happen that makes sports attractive,” Mr Kelly stated.

At the launch, Director of Participation and Ethics at Sport Ireland, Dr Una May said: “Maintaining the positive values in sport, including integrity, is fundamental to increasing future participation.”

Fix the Fixing is an Erasmus+ funded project, which developed a new evidence-based, user-friendly educational tool. In the future, this online tool will be available to anyone involved in sports, education and policy-making, to help sports participants and other stakeholders recognise, resist and report match-fixing.

Key survey findings were that more than 12% of respondents indicated they had played in a match that was fixed, almost 15% said they suspected they had played in a match that was fixed and nearly 15% stated they were approached in the past year by someone who asked them to fix a match. However, of those who were approached to fix a match in the last year, 36% of participants said they would not report any suspicions of fixing, mainly due to lack of trust and confidentiality.

According to the researcher leading the survey, Dr Deirdre O’Shea, lecturer in work and organisational psychology at UL: “What surprised me most in carrying out this research was how vulnerable players are. In the opinions of the players surveyed, the strongest risk factor for why a person might fix a match were pressure from an individual in a position of power, the threat of violence against them or their family and financial difficulties. Not only that but nearly half of the players who took part in the survey reported that they were not certain of the rules in their country around betting or inside information”.

The national lead on the project Dr Tadhg MacIntyre, together with researcher Clare Murphy, conducted a series of focus groups with athletes and referees.

“The knowledge gap we found was vast: Refs and players in professional sports had received mandatory training and could have written a textbook on the topic, whereas in other sports awareness of the rules was virtually non-existent. The online tool we produced is available in four languages and will help address this knowledge gap. It can assist sports bodies in educating their members about the consequences of even minor breaches of sporting integrity and how players may expose themselves to unnecessary risks”, Dr MacIntyre explained.

Dr Giles Warrington, senior lecturer and head of the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences (PESS) at UL, said: “Understanding the threats to modern sport will help us protect the well-being of athletes, coaches, parents and all stakeholders. It is vital that if we promote sport, that we develop strategies to deal with the possible risks from match fixing and unethical practices”.

The next steps in the Fix the Fixing project include studying how to increase athlete autonomy and well-being, which will enable athletes to resist coercion, report incidents and ultimately buffer them from the threats of match-fixing.

The Fix the Fixing project comprised experts in sport psychology, sports law, organisational psychology, sport coaching, social media data analytics, and anti-corruption researchers from the following partner institutions: University of Limerick; Queen’s University, Belfast; Cyprus Sports Organisation; IRIS (The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs); ICCE (International Council for Coaching Excellence); Association for the Protection of Integrity in Sports, Austria; KEA (Sports Transparency and Integrity Protection of Greek Athleticism, Greece; ICSS (International Centre for Sport Security); and, was led by Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece.

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