Benoit Pasquier has been the Asian Football Confederation’s general counsel and director of legal affairs since 2013. He’s leaving the organisation at the end of this month to start a private practice in Switzerland. SportBusiness spoke to him about one of his biggest challenges during his time at the confederation – sharpening up its approach to match-fixing. The organisation had just renewed and expanded its anti-match-fixing partnership with sports data firm Sportradar.
How great is the match-fixing problem in Asian football today compared to when you started in 2013?
Match-fixing has been prevalent in the past, but the problem hasn’t cast roots too deep that it affects the integrity of the sport in the region. Different countries have different ways of decreasing their match-fixing, and the AFC, together with Sportradar, are really helping to shape that narrative.
In addition, we engage with law enforcement authorities in order to get their support in our investigations. Prominent cases of this happening would include in 2015, when four Nepali players and one official were arrested for fixing matches, alongside the 2017 example of the Thai match-fixing arrests. More recently, the bold action taken in 2019 by the AFC to enforce life bans against four central Asian players caught in match-fixing within AFC competitions during 2017 and 2018 demonstrated our stance on the safeguarding of the integrity of Asian football.
How is the match-fixing problem in Asian football today different from seven years ago – how has the threat changed or evolved?
The game in Asia has changed beyond recognition in the last decade. We are seeing world-class players joining teams across the continent and that, along with the rising standards of play and the bigger audiences, means the game is constantly in the spotlight. A side effect of the greater impact is a more vibrant betting market. This means it is more attractive to betting syndicates as well.
At the same time, we have improved our protection of the sport to ensure that players and officials are no longer as vulnerable. But it doesn’t mean the threat has disappeared.
Raising awareness among the younger players about the dangers of these situations is key, as it can lead to the end of their career if they are caught. Wrongdoers are caught and punished, as shown by the banning of 22 Laotian and Cambodian individuals [in 2017], after an investigation performed by the AFC Integrity Unit and assisted by Sportradar. Those careers are ruined.
How significant has the Sportradar partnership been in tackling match-fixing?
It’s been invaluable to us. We’ve experienced some amazing results, for instance in the period from 2016 we’ve witnessed a decline of 21 per cent in match-fixing across Asia. With our efforts in tandem with Sportradar, the preventive measures we’ve introduced have produced positive results.
Of course, several prominent decisions of the AFC on match-fixing cases have also sent a strong message about the zero-tolerance policy applied to match-fixing by the AFC and its integrity and disciplinary bodies.
We are glad that the AFC Member Associations have also followed our steps and are taking the threat of match-fixing as seriously as the AFC. The AFC is often asked by its Member Associations to explain our strategy, and provide support so that they can develop their own strategies.
What are the AFC’s targets for the future in terms of continuing to tackle match-fixing?
Technology has been a propagating factor for illicit activity, but has also aided the AFC in identifying these patterns of behaviour. Looking to use technology to our advantage, the AFC launched its integrity mobile app in November 2017. It allows fans, players and officials to report match-fixing suspicions directly to the AFC.
As part of the Sportradar partnership renewal, the app will be upgraded to allow for the reporting of cases of doping, bullying and harassment. Digital media and technologies have redefined how sports fans communicate. Our upgraded mobile app will enhance our detection abilities and our intelligence network, which will further strengthen our pursuit of match-fixing, and help maintain the integrity of our matches and Asian football in general.
The AFC has dedicated a notable amount of time to keeping this problem at bay and has been seeing a steady decline in match-fixing in the last few years. This is in direct contrast to the growth in betting coverage and the number of escalations [match investigations] worldwide over that period. The AFC has one of the toughest records on sanctioning match-fixers in all of world sport, in terms of number of successful cases, guilty persons punished, and the lack of appeals.