The name Klubi Sportiv Skënderbeu (KS Skënderbeu) will not be recognized by many but the Albanian club now holds an unwanted record as the recipient of the most severe sanction imposed by UEFA for match-fixing offences.
On July 12, 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) released their final decision, dismissing KS Skënderbeu’s appeal against the decision issued by the UEFA Appeals Body on April 26, 2018, in turn confirming the decision issued on March 29, 2018 by the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body (the UEFA CEDB Decision). The UEFA CEDB Decision found the Albanian club responsible for numerous match-fixing activities and excluded the club from participating in all UEFA club competitions for the next ten years, as well as ordering the club pay a fine of €1million. The CAS panel held that KS Skënderbeu was indeed responsible for the alleged match-fixing activities and the sanctions imposed by the UEFA CEDB Decision were “proportionate and justified”.
Why is this case so noteworthy?
This is not KS Skënderbeu’s first offence, having previously been punished for match-fixing with a year-long suspension from all European club competitions for the 2016/2017 season. However, a number of the more recent allegations centre around the relationship between the former Albanian finance minister and the club’s then President, whose links to a number of betting companies is said to have allowed him to manipulate results for monetary gain.
When UEFA’s betting fraud detection system was triggered, it was alleged that KS Skënderbeu had influenced 53 matches, including Albanian club fixtures and games in UEFA club competitions between November 2010 and April 2016. In particular, two games from the UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds in 2015/2016 and from that same season’s UEFA Europe League group stage came under the limelight leading to accusations that the club attempted to “obtain criminal betting profits on a stunning global scale”.
The highest profile of the games investigated was the Champions League second qualifying round second leg between KS Skënderbeu and Crusaders, a Northern Irish club, on July 21, 2015. KS Skënderbeu won the first leg 4-1 and were winning 2-1 in the second leg, which triggered “some outrageous suspicious live betting”. In the last ten minutes of the game, KS Skënderbeu conceded twice and Crusaders had two further goals disallowed. The findings of the UEFA betting fraud detection system were verified by a UEFA expert panel, who reviewed incidents from the culmination of the game with Crusaders to ascertain whether the suspicions were well-founded.
Parallels are often drawn between match-fixing and doping due to their adverse impact on the integrity of sport. However, as illustrated by this case, match-fixing often necessitates an individual or a team collectively "throwing" a game or event. Although UEFA have clearly sent a message to all those involved in football across Europe that any breach of the regulations around match-fixing will be severely punished, they have also sent a message to their commercial partners that the integrity of football is in safe hands.