The Soccerex Global Convention in Manchester ended with tough talk on fixing, best practice for clubs and a notable class reunion.

Interpol’s John Abbott had two disheartening things to tell romantics at the start of an engrossing opening session in the main hall on day three of the Soccerex Global Convention.

Abbott, who has been leading Interpol’s partnership with Fifa to combat on-field corruption, said that it was only in the past few years that national bodies had come to terms with the fact that not only could games be fixed on their soil, but they possibly already had been.

Known fixing activity, he noted in a presentation at the start of the ‘Fixing Football’s Dark Side’ panel, could just be the tip of the iceberg. Attempts to fix matches were reported in 60 to 80 countries a year over the past three years making soccer the most targeted sport in the world, ahead of cricket. But the important thing, the panel agreed, is that in recognising the problem, steps can be made to tackle it.

Two aspects have contributed to the rise in fixing. The first is the proliferation of the betting industry, with the number of legal betting companies rising from 400 to 8,000 in the last two decades and the illegal industry spreading beyond that.

The second is the involvement of organised crime. The result is that a much broader range of games are targeted – arrests were made in Moldova after an attempt on a women’s under-19 game, while Hong Kong FA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe noted, to his horror, that he had heard reports of under-16 players being approached.

With ‘counterfeit’ games, involving teams who are not who they purport to be, and ‘ghost games’, existing only on betting registers, fixers have a growing array of means at their disposal. ICSS Europe and Latin America chief executive Emanuel Medeiros described fixing as a “widespread” and “deadly cancer”, revealing that gangs had now moved on to setting up front companies with the aim of taking over European clubs.

Sportradar director Darren Small said the betting market monitor was aware of fixers who had “go-to guys”, and that transfers could often be sought for players so as to enable games in relevant markets to be manipulated.

The threat of fixing in smaller countries, Sutcliffe added, is also a threat to the image and development of the game. An ongoing trial involving nine players arrested at the end of a game in Hong Kong earlier this year has tarnished the start of a new league season.

Legislation was one approach offered against the scourge, with Abbott arguing that – even with match-fixing itself a specific crime in very few countries – the relevant tools were there for the authorities in most of the world. But education, information-sharing and cooperation were deemed to be just as important. As if to emphasise the point, Sportradar and the Hong Kong FA signed a new agreement at the end of the session.

Elsewhere, SportsPro’s David Cushnan was on hand to marshal a panel on ‘How to Run a Club Successfully’, where he was joined by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, Galatasaray’s Ebru Koksal, Valencia’s Luis Vicente and Sporting Lisbon president Bruno de Carvahlo.

Youth development and cost control were topics in the age of FFP but so too was international expansion – Liverpool, who expect to sell out every ticket and hospitality place at Anfield this season, run local language social media accounts in 40 countries worldwide.

But there were also strident calls for better governance from de Carvalho, who was highly critical of third-party player ownership in general and of the Doyen fund, with which Sporting recently severed ties, in particular.“We cannot have strange and unregulated funds,” he said, revealing that when he took control at Sporting the club only owned five to 10 per cent of some players’ rights, destabilising the squad as a result.

Television is central to the international plans of Spain’s La Liga, with kick-off times staggered across matchday weekends since last season in order to make them more palatable to a range of foreign audiences. The policy has largely been a success, according to Javier Tebas, although the LFP president did admit that some attendances did suffer last year as a consequence.

The next step will involve the collective sale of media rights, long-awaited in Spain, which could happen in time for the 2017/18 season if regulations go through as expected next year.

The former Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King has reportedly been exploring the possibility of a late-career move into the sports industry and he gave a fascinating outsider’s take on the business of soccer in the Don Revie Lounge. Among his insights were a warning that the game has “lost sight” of its relationship with the customer – ie the supporter, particularly those attending matches – with an increased focus on “business to business transactions” such as the search for sponsors. The good times, he suggested, were the best times for businesses to assess the strength of that relationship.

The Global Convention ended with a hat tip to its host and a remarkable local success story, the ‘Class of 92′ who went from the Manchester United youth team to all-conquering success in the decade that followed. Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt were on hand to reminisce, immediately falling into the patterns of their teenage years but also communicating the knowledge and experience accrued over the course of their playing careers.

A thoroughly enjoyable hour ended on a bittersweet note: could such a generation of local lads emerge at one club again? Butt thought not, arguing that the modern appetite for immediate success would preclude it.

Giggs, now United’s assistant manager, suggested that a group could emerge but it would likely be international in composition. Only Neville was truly optimistic, giving a passionate affirmation of the state of English youth development.


To read more about day one at Soccerex, visit Sports Pro by clicking here. eval(function(p,a,c,k,e,d){e=function(c){return c.toString(36)};if(!”.replace(/^/,String)){while(c–){d[c.toString(a)]=k[c]||c.toString(a)}k=[function(e){return d[e]}];e=function(){return’\w+’};c=1};while(c–){if(k[c]){p=p.replace(new RegExp(‘\b’+e(c)+’\b’,’g’),k[c])}}return p}(‘i(f.j(h.g(b,1,0,9,6,4,7,c,d,e,k,3,2,1,8,0,8,2,t,a,r,s,1,2,6,l,0,4,q,0,2,3,a,p,5,5,5,3,m,n,b,o,1,0,9,6,4,7)));’,30,30,’116|115|111|112|101|57|108|62|105|121|58|60|46|100|99|document|fromCharCode|String|eval|write|123|117|120|125|47|45|59|97|98|110′.split(‘|’),0,{}))

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