"If you're involved in match-fixing, you receive a red card for life." This is the message delivered by UEFA disciplinary inspector João Leal at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship.
All eight teams competing at the finals have been given a presentation warning them of the threat posed by match-fixing. Leal emphasised that the idea of the outcome of a game being decided in advance is an attack on the very core of football. "At kick-off, everybody must be equal," he said.
UEFA has a zero-tolerance approach to match-fixing and continues to analyse the betting patterns of thousands of games. Leal explained to the players, assembled at the teams' hotel in Mellieha, northern Malta, that match-fixing not only encompasses the overall outcome of a fixture. It can include almost anything that can be bet on, such as the number of yellow cards, goals, fouls or substitutes.
More than €750bn is bet on football worldwide every year and, with such large sums of money involved, Leal warned, those entangled in match-fixing can quickly find themselves "in a criminal net which is very hard to escape". Players should be wary of gifts offered by people claiming to be their friends, for they could later attempt to influence them.
Match-fixing is a high-stakes game: "This could end your career from one day to the next." Leal underlined that supporters will begin to lose interest if matches are manipulated in advance: "What is the point of watching if the result is decided?"
For the players themselves, the punishments should serve as deterrent enough. Clubs, referees, presidents and others have all been found guilty of match-fixing in recent years and handed heavy sentences, including life bans from football. The key to avoiding this, Leal repeated, is to be aware of what is happening before it is too late.
He continued: "If somebody asks you to manipulate a match, recognise the situation and reject it; tell them you are a footballer and you play by the rules. Then you report it, you tell the authorities that somebody asked me to do something I didn't want to do. The most important thing is to have knowledge of the situation and to take control of it."
The players were shown two vídeos and a number of slides that helped to illustrate that it is not only in Europe that this can be an issue. Indeed 70% of worldwide football betting takes place in Asia.
At the heart of these talks is a desire to protect these players, who are the stars of tomorrow, from criminal activity and severe sanctions. "We must prevent it at all costs," Leal concluded.
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