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Finland has experienced severe problems with match-fixing in recent years. All the more reason for the Finnish professional footballers’ association JPY to take this problem very seriously.

 

Last Thursday, November 21st, the union organised a national seminar as part of the Don’t Fix It campaign.

 

Among the participants were Head of Referees Johan Holmqvist, Competition Manager Peter Lundström, Finnish league (Veikkausliiga) Director Timo Marjamaa, JPY President and former national team captain Hannu Tihinen and more than 40 professional footballers. All paid close attention to presentations about match-fixing and the fight against it, among others Jouko Ikonen (National Bureau of Investigation ), Harri Syväsalmi (Ministry of Education and Culture), Juha-Matti Mäkelä (Business Manager Veikkaus, the national betting agency), Tero Koskela (JPY Vice Chairman) and Mika Palmgren (JPY Lawyer).

 

Jouko Ikonen stated that the National Bureau of Investigation does not concentrate its research on the players, as the Bureau extends its investigations deeply into the criminal organisations.

 

Harri Syväsalmi – who also chairs the Council Expert Group on Match-fixing – emphasised that ‘the players are not the problem, they are part of the solution’. ‘The problems will only be solved by seamless co-operation of all parties. The praxis has to be brought to the dressing rooms and the players have to be informed to act responsibly.’

 

Juha-Matti Mäkelä explained that the country’s football divisions have become very popular in the betting industry because the Finnish football season is one of the few leagues worldwide in which matches are scheduled during the summer. ‘Even matches in the third tier of the Finnish league are offered by bookmakers all over the world: about 300 legal betting companies and a lot more illegal betting companies’, Mäkelä said.

 

The challenge for those working to stop fixers is huge. Club finances are often shaky. Footballers in the top division earn around half the average wage of the rest of the male population in Finland.

 

But, adds union president Markus Juhola, players do have their own choice. 'Match-fixing is not only about the money. It is a criminal activity, most of the times players are the victims and not the organizers. When football players feel that they are working in a safe environment, when they feel that they will be supported and not be left to fend for themselves, then the decision not to fix matches is more likely'.

 

The Finnish footballers’ association stresses that players need to be aware of the warning signs, they should be wary of certain types of contacts, and they should notify the authorities when they suspect something untoward.

 

During the seminar JPY Vice Chairman Tero Koskela demonstrated the mobile app that was launched by the players union. Via this app, players can anonymously send information when they have witnessed any effort to manipulate matches.  JPY’s app is an important tool to help footballers. The application also informs players of the likely approaches fixers take and feeds all the information back to the authorities.