The number of soccer matches identified as having suspicious betting patterns decreased from 456 in 2019 to 217 in 2020, according to a new report.

The fourth annual ‘Suspicious Betting Trends in Global Football Report’ co-authored by Stats Perform, the prominent international sports data provider, and Starlizard Integrity Services, the specialist and dedicated integrity division of Starlizard Consulting, aims to help soccer’s global stakeholders better understand the complexities of monitoring suspicious wagering activities and current betting trends.

The proportion of matches identified as having suspicious betting activity dropped from 0.56 per cent in 2020 to 0.35 per cent this year, which marks the third successive year that the figure has fallen and is now over 50 per cent less than the inaugural report from 2018 when 0.73 per cent of matches were identified as suspicious.

The report studied 61,296 soccer matches played throughout 2020, a decrease of 23 per cent on the 80,939 fixtures studied in the previous year largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic causing the cancellation of many fixtures. Despite this, the companies claim it is comparable to the 62,250 matches analysed two years ago.

It covered domestic and international competitions across 112 countries on six continents.

The report outlined that the proportion of suspicious matches in 2020 peaked in the spring when betting focus was concentrated on friendly matches and lower profile competitions. However, in the autumn months, as fixture calendars returned to relative normality, proportions dropped to well below those of previous years.

It also found that 42 per cent of all suspicious matches were at the highest level of domestic soccer in the country in which they took place, while 36 per cent of suspicious matches took place in the second-tier of domestic soccer.

As with previous editions of the report, Stats Perform and Starlizard concluded that friendly matches continue to pose significant issues for soccer authorities. A total of 1.19 per cent of analysed friendlies were suspicious, an increase from 0.67 per cent in last year’s report.

The number of suspicious matches in women’s football continues to remain low, though, with only one identified amongst more than 3,700 matches analysed.  

Jake Marsh, global head of integrity at Stats Perform, said: “After four years of publishing this report it is great to see that the analysis continues to generate objective and fact-based insights for football’s governing bodies, integrity stakeholders and fans alike.

“2020 was an exceptional year for football in how it was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and we will no doubt be understanding the long-term effects and risks to the sport for several years. Despite the reduction in fixtures in 2020, there was still a very high number of matches that we identified as suspicious and potentially linked to manipulation.

“There are cautious signs for optimism in some areas, but the report shows the risk of match-fixing is ever-present in football, and it is paramount that those protecting the sport are properly equipped to protect the beautiful game.”

Affy Sheikh, head of integrity at Starlizard, added: “The Covid-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of football fixtures and the suspension of leagues around the world, resulting in a significant reduction in the number of games played during 2020.

“Worryingly, we have still identified over 200 games that are suspicious in terms of potential match manipulation and that, we feel, warrant further investigation. Despite the more limited availability of matches due to the pandemic, this suggests that criminals have found new ways and new targets in their attempts to manipulate matches and the betting markets.

“It is imperative that all football stakeholders remain vigilant to the threat of match-fixing at all times and make adequate resources available to keep the sport clean, free from corrupt influence, and to ensure that football fans can enjoy watching an honest and fair game.”