UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino has emphasised UEFA's determination to fight match-fixing and corruption in football.
In an address at a conference in Rome on Integrity in Sport, organised by Interpol and world football's governing body FIFA, Mr Infantino reiterated UEFA's call for widespread cooperation between sports and state bodies to eradicate from football what he described as a "cancer" posing a real threat to the game's integrity.
"We cannot and will not allow our game to be contaminated by criminals who have nothing but financial gain in mind," Mr Infantino told UEFA.com ahead of the conference. "Football, as you know, is a game based on fair competition between participants played to an agreed set of rules. The integrity of our sport, as well as the physical and emotional well-being of both players and match officials, are being severely undermined by these individuals who have direct links to organised criminal groups in both Asia and Europe.
"We are committed to maintaining our sport's integrity," he added. "With our continued programme of education for players, match officials and coaches, our sophisticated monitoring systems and our close links with law enforcement agencies and state authorities, under no circumstances will we surrender to match-fixers.
"We cannot win this battle alone, and we recognise the need for close collaboration with all the members of the football family and other sporting bodies, whose goal it is to see the true values of football prevail. We very much count on their support."
The prevention and detection of match-fixing has been a priority for UEFA for many years at both domestic and international levels. "Indeed, sporting integrity is included as one of our organisation's 11 key values," said the UEFA General Secretary. "Betting is a source of funding, but it is also a risk for football, especially as far as the integrity of competitions is concerned. Our primary focus must continue to be a total commitment to protecting sporting integrity and the proper running of our competitions, in order to preserve the true spirit of our game."
The UEFA General Secretary explained that UEFA's approach is threefold – prevention through education; monitoring and reporting via cooperation with the betting industry; and action through punishment and disciplinary sanctions. Last year, UEFA and Interpol pledged to reinforce the working relationship and exchange of information between the two organisations.
UEFA has used the educational platform of its youth competition final tournaments to make players aware of the risks. Presentations and workshops have hammered home the message that match-fixing is "cheating to lose". The Professional Football Strategy Council has also recognised the menace of match-fixing by adopting a resolution which invited UEFA to intensify and extend its education programme in cooperation with associations, clubs, leagues and players' unions on a European and a national level.
Mr Infantino cited the sophisticated Betting Fraud Detection System created by UEFA, which monitors all matches in UEFA competitions – approximately 2,000 matches per season – as well as over 30,000 domestic league and cup games across 53 member associations. "We know that over 99% of the matches we monitor show absolutely no irregular betting patterns," he said. "However, the less than 1% of matches that do show irregular betting patterns remain unacceptable."
The Rome conference was attended by integrity officers deployed by UEFA throughout its 53 member associations, who are working against match-fixing at a domestic level, helping to introduce education programmes for players, officials and administrators, and liaising with UEFA on any integrity matter which arises concerning their matches or their teams participating in UEFA competitions. Mr Infantino said: "UEFA is building a comprehensive internal database containing match-related information and data from diverse sources which enables us to cooperate with law enforcement agencies and state prosecutors in their inquiries into cases of the corruption of matches.
"We will punish very harshly anyone who is manipulating the result of a match," Mr Infantino stressed. "We have collaborated with police authorities to make sure these criminal activities are tackled, and that this cancer is eradicated from the game before it gets too big. It is a challenge and we are ready. Players and match officials have been banned from any involvement in football as a result of our 'zero tolerance' policy towards match-fixing, and clubs have been excluded from UEFA competitions.
"We have had highly successful discussions with members of the European Union and the European Parliament to include sporting fraud as a specific criminal offence in all EU member states. Accordingly, the UEFA Executive Committee has also recently expressed its support for the introduction of sporting fraud as a criminal offence in national legislations throughout Europe, as cooperation from legal authorities is required if we are to eliminate match-fixing."
The UEFA General Secretary quoted UEFA President Michel Platini: "If we begin to know the results of matches before the matches take place, we would have to stop. Children would have to stop playing football, people would have to stop going to the stadiums. We are going to deploy every means necessary to combat [those who] cheat."
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