UEFA Says Player Trading Funds Risk Soccer Match Manipulation

A top European soccer administrator said investment funds buying stakes in players’ transfer rights raises the risk of match fixing.

Gianni Infantino, the general secretary of ruling body UEFA, said the group will continue to push for a ban on so-called third-party ownership should the global managing body, FIFA, fail to do so.

“We must protect the integrity of sporting competition,” Infantino said in UEFA Direct, the body’s official magazine. “What happens when the same corporation or fund owns the economic rights in many players in different teams? There is an obvious risk of conflicts of interest. The danger of manipulation of results is something that UEFA must guard against, now more than ever.”

The sport is split over whether action should be taken against player investment, which has mushroomed since emerging in the South America in the 1990s. Although banned in France and England, the practice is now common in Europe as clubs look for alternative funding amid the continuing economic crisis. Funds say they are stepping in place of banks, and their arrangements should be seen as loans.

Infantino’s link to match manipulation comes during a period when the sport has dealt with several fixing scandals.

The Europol police agency in February said a Singapore-based operation tried to fix games across Europe, including World Cup and European Championship qualifiers, to generate more than 8 million euros ($10.5 million) in profit.

Operation VETO

An 18-month investigation, dubbed Operation VETO, found 425 match officials, club executives, players and criminals in 15 countries worked to cheat in more than 380 matches, with another 300 targeted in other regions. Also in February FIFA gave worldwide bans to 74 people suspended by the Italian and South Korean federations for match-fixing and corruption.

The global gambling industry has annual revenue of $1 trillion, according to FIFA’s former head of security Chris Eaton. In remarks he’ll deliver at sports security conference in Doha later this month, Eaton will say 85 percent of all betting activity takes place in under-regulated or illegal markets.

“We know for a fact that some very high profile football matches alone attract $1 billion in global bets during one 90 minute game,” Eaton said in the remarks.

In countries including Brazil and Portugal, player investment funds that profit if and when the talent is traded for a higher price are an established part of soccer. Eighteen-time Portuguese champion Sporting Lisbon has sold stakes in all but four of its 28-member roster while in Brazil, 90 percent of players in the country’s top league “are somehow linked to investors,” according Jochen Loesch, president of international business at Traffic Sports, which has invested more than $75 million in the rights of about 60 players since it was established in 2007.

Undisclosed Investors

England’s Premier League head Richard Scudamore has said that investors are often based in off-shore locations, making it difficult for regulators to know who is behind them. Infantino said the funds’ motivation to profit from sales is incompatible with soccer.

“The business model of those involved in third-party player ownership is predicated on players changing clubs frequently,” he said. “Put bluntly, more transfers means more money for such ‘owners,’ resulting in contractual instability and long-term revenue being lost from the sport.”

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