The Women’s World Cup has been in the news for all the right reason these past few weeks. It’s been a glorious tournament that has brought record numbers of viewers and sports bets placed as well.
In fact it’s expected that 1 billion viewers will have tuned into the event by the time the final between the Netherlands and the United States is played on Sunday.
Having the spotlight shined so bright has also helped to hear the voices of leaders in the sports like US soccer Megan Rapinoe highlight the huge pay disparity between the woman’s team and their US counterpart and between women’s and men’s soccer in general.
A report came out showing a $410 million gap in the prize money payout between the men and women for the World Cup.
At the same time, interest in betting on the World Cup has reached unprecedented heights. The sports betting website Betfair reports that £225 million has already been bet after the semifinals, compared to £92 million for the last World Cup. The game between England and the US shattered their record for most money placed on the game. £14 million was placed on it and the previous record for an individual game was £7.5.
These totals are estimated to be just 5% of the total global stake being placed on this World Cup. Anyway you add it up, women’s soccer has become huge business in the sports betting world.
But with so many players and teams underpaid and unappreciated by their associations, that leaves the door open for match fixing and corruption that threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down.
FIFA is aware of the problem and they created integrity workshops for each of the 24 competing nations as well as the referees. They also have a control center in Paris to oversee the live betting markets as they monitor any suspicious betting activities.
It’s a bit of a stretch to expect match-fixing at such a high profile tournament as the World Cup, but as Vassilis Barkoukis from Aristotle University helps to point out, “Our research showed that athletes not being paid, or not being paid regularly, in sports that are not under strict supervision but included in betting are more vulnerable to match-fixing. I think women’s sports fall into this.”
In regions such as South America, Africa, Australia and even Europe where the popularity of the sport is far exceeding the investments the associations are placing in the game, opportunities are there for match-fixing to take place.
In 2018 police in Spain made several arrests for a multitude of match fixing at multiple levels. Three under-16 Belgium players also reported being offered $50,000 to throw a game. In 2017 the coach of Macedonia’s team was suspended after telling her players to concede a goal on purpose.
All of this has happened before the current explosion of the game taking place. If the associations are not willing to address the roots of the issue and help support the women’s game at a rate commensurate to the men and to what they are doing to grow the sport, those vulnerabilities will remain in place to be exploited.