False Soccer Data Tripping Up Bookmakers Raise Concerns

Perform Group Plc’s RunningBall unit, which supplies real-time soccer match data, sent incorrect information to bookmakers about a game amid concern reporters could be induced to help commit betting fraud.

RunningBall, which says it employs 1,000 observers in 70 countries, said in a statement that one of the scouts filed information in good faith about an Aug. 4 exhibition match between Spain’s Ponferradina and Freamunde of Portugal even though two other teams were playing. U.K. bookmaker Gala Coral Group Ltd. is refunding losing bets and Betfair Group Plc voided wagers on the game.

“The match appeared to take place as scheduled and there were no grounds for suspicion regarding the integrity of the match at the time,” Huenenberg, Switzerland-based RunningBall said in a statement today. “The match data was recorded accurately and in line with RunningBall’s protocols.”

Shares of Feltham, England-based Perform, which acquired RunningBall for as much as 120 million euros ($160 million) in 2012, were up 0.7 percent at 228.1 pence at 3:45 p.m. in London today. Perform also produces online sports content and runs Chelsea Football Club’s website.

No Unusual Betting

The teams were wearing the colors of Ponferradina and Freamunde, RunningBall said, adding “to the best of our knowledge” there were no irregular betting patterns in relation to the match. So-called “ghost” sports events to cheat bookmakers are rare, although not implausible, according to Chris Eaton, a former head of security at soccer ruling body FIFA who is now a director at Doha, Qatar-based International Center for Sport Security.

Brussels-based Federbet, which monitors betting to look out for match fixing, says scoring in 11 exhibition soccer games might have been manipulated in Europe between Jan. 9 and May 25. After the Aug. 4 game, Freamunde’s website showed the result of the exhibition at 2-1 to Ponferradina and flagged two other bogus future exhibition games against second-division Spanish clubs Sabadell and Lugo, according to Federbet general secretary Francesco Barranca.

The Portuguese team’s website may have been hacked, Barranca said by phone. Freamunde said in a statement it had nothing to do with the “regrettable” incident, Lusa news agency reported.

Although there is more recent evidence of soccer players being bribed by fraudsters, scouts who send match statistics via smartphones could be induced to send false data information, according to Eaton.

“Bookmakers have no way of knowing all the information is accurate,” Eaton said by phone.

The level of fixing in soccer has risen with the increase of real-time betting by companies including Betfair, according to Mark Griffiths, a professor of gambling studies at the U.K.’s Nottingham Trent University. According to a 2012 study of Eastern European soccer by player union FIFPro, 12 percent of 3,357 players interviewed had been approached to fix games.

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