Interview with SBC News: Playing our part in the fight against match-fixing

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Starlizard Integrity Services is sponsoring Betting on Football 2018, the fifth edition of the largest international football and betting trade conference at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea FC.

Ahead of the 20-23 March event, we spoke to the company’s Head of Integrity Affy Sheikh about what he is looking forward to at #bofcon2018, which innovation he expects to capture the most attention in 2018, and who he is backing to lift the World Cup trophy in Russia.

SBC: What are you looking forward to at Betting on Football?

AS: I’m looking forward to meeting fellow integrity stakeholders from both the football and betting worlds to help find new ways to combat match-fixing and ensure fairness in football. Starlizard Integrity Services are already working with a number of governing bodies, offering them an invaluable inside-the-market perspective to assist in identifying anomalies before and during games, both on and off the pitch. I look forward to exploring how we can extend this cooperation to support them and other integrity stakeholders – from clubs to national associations and other governing bodies – in the fight against match-fixing.

As always there’s an excellent agenda for Betting on Football, including a particularly interesting session on Day One on “The latest tactics against match-fixing”. There’s a great panel lined up for that one. Cooperation across sectors is essential in order to have a meaningful and significant impact on match-fixing and it’s good to see this topic featuring so prominently. Starlizard Integrity Services will be following up that session later the same afternoon by co-hosting a roundtable discussion on global trends in suspicious football betting patterns.

SBC: What are you promoting at Betting on Football?

AS: Through our participation in Betting on Football, we are seeking to increase awareness of Starlizard’s integrity services and help play our part in the ongoing battle against match-fixing. For more than 10 years now, Starlizard have been leading the way with our research, data and analytics-driven approach to football betting – and our predictions and understanding of the football betting markets are widely acknowledged to be second to none. Less well known is our important work in the integrity area.

Our Integrity Services team have taken what Starlizard excels at and channelled it towards the company’s vision of fairness in sport, using our deep understanding of football and related betting markets to assist stakeholders to understand when integrity issues exist and ultimately helping to combat match-fixing. Fixed games, by definition, are not representative of how genuine sport is played. Match-fixing, therefore, is detrimental both to football and to those with a genuine interest in betting.

Because of our involvement in betting markets, we have a unique inside-the-market view that offers more than traditional integrity monitoring services and affords greater insights. We know better than anyone where betting markets should be, and it therefore follows that we know better than anyone where the markets shouldn’t be.

The value of this was demonstrated in the case of referee Joseph Lamptey, who received a lifetime ban for unfairly influencing the result of the World Cup qualifier played between South Africa and Senegal. Our report analysing the betting markets surrounding that game, together with our expert witness evidence before the Court of Arbitration for Sport that was hearing the referee’s appeal, played a key role in the decision, announced in January, to dismiss the appeal and uphold the ban.

We are also delighted to be co-hosting a roundtable discussion at Betting on Football relating to integrity matters – at which we’ll be presenting findings from our joint report with the Perform Group on global trends in suspicious football betting patterns.

SBC: What industry innovation will capture the most attention in 2018?

AS: We are excited to be involved in the Betting on Innovation track this year, especially with 2018 already proving to be a landmark year in the evolution of football technology. So far, we’ve seen VAR make its debut in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup – and this type of technological advancement will be very important going forward in supporting referees in their decision-making, ensuring greater fairness in matches and helping preserve the integrity of football overall.

Our inclusion in the Betting on Innovation track is particularly apt, given our very different approach in the sports integrity field. We study probability and betting odds rather than simply monitoring betting market fluctuations, picking the right selections and getting opinions into the market. There’s no other organisation quite like ours that’s active in the integrity space.

SBC: How can your company help to improve the customer experience ahead of the World Cup?

AS: Our services are aimed at preserving the integrity of football and identifying anomalies both on the pitch and in the betting markets, so it’s natural that the World Cup will fall within this scope. It is, after all, one of the world’s biggest events for sports betting and an extremely liquid market.

With organisations such as Starlizard Integrity Services paying detailed attention to the World Cup and scrutinising every aspect of play and betting market activity, football fans, bettors and betting operators can enjoy greater peace of mind about the integrity of the games being played.

SBC: Who are you backing to win the tournament, and why?

AS: As much as I know you’d like me to, I can’t really answer this one!! However, whatever the outcome, I think Iceland and Panama are already winners, having qualified for their first ever World Cup finals.