By James Grubel
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Bookmakers suspended betting on an Australian Rules club on Friday due to doping claims, as police warned of significant match-fixing risks due to large Asian betting pools, citing A$40 million in wagers on one local soccer match.
Australia's top criminal intelligence body said on Thursday that organised crime had a growing influence over local sport and that the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs increased the risks of match-fixing.
Authorities have confirmed one potentially fixed match, but will not identify the sport. Officials from the local Australian Rules football organisation (AFL), and the Football Federation of Australia (FFA), which runs soccer, have said there are currently no match-fixing investigations underway.
Police would not confirm whether they had any match-fixing investigations underway, adding they would not necessarily notify sporting bodies due to sensitive information, often gained through telephone intercepts.
An FFA spokesman on Friday said they were looking to identify the 2012 soccer match which attracted the $40 million Asian in bets.
"It is understood the FFA is looking into identifying the match relating to this betting plunge but has received no information relating to a breach of integrity in any of its matches," the spokesman said.
European police on Monday revealed a global football betting scam, involving a Singapore-based syndicate which had directed match-fixing for at least 380 soccer games in Europe alone, making at least eight million euros ($11 million).
About 680 suspicious matches including qualifying games for the World Cup and European Championships, and the Champions League for top European club sides, were identified in an inquiry by European police forces.
Police in the state of Victoria have expressed concerns that the increasingly large bets from Asia have increased the risks of soccer match-fixing in Australia's top flight A-League.
"We had over A$40 million ($41.25 million) just with one Asian bookmaker alone, one of the legal bookmakers, on one A-League match here in Victoria," Assistant Commissioner Graham Ashton said on Thursday.
"Certainly we think soccer is a big risk, cricket is another and tennis.
"When this betting is occurring to that level it becomes attractive for crime figures to want to get involved to fix matches. It is really a significant risk factor when you see these pools build up to that extent."
Ashton said the biggest risk was on spot fixing, where gamblers can bet on incidents during a game, such as a first goal or a player missing a goal, rather than fixing the results of an entire game.
"In the Australian cultural context we would consider fixing a whole match to be morally unacceptable," he said.
"But to miss a shot for a score or fail to take a mark is more acceptable when large sums of money are involved."
Australian bookmakers Sportsbet and Tattsbet on Friday suspended betting on Australian rules team Essendon, which has been embroiled in a scandal over players taking potentially illicit performance supplements.
The club this week asked the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority to investigate the supplements given to players last season.
"Given the events surrounding Essendon, the most prudent thing to do was to suspend the betting," Sportsbet spokesman Ben Hawes told Reuters.
Sportsbet has suspended betting on all pre-season cup matches for Essendon, and for the opening match of the main AFL season between Essendon and Adelaide on March 22. It has also suspended betting for Essendon to make the 2013 playoffs.
Tattsbet has suspended bets on the Essendon-Adelaide match, and all betting on all teams to make the September finals.
A report by Australia's top criminal intelligence body, the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), released on Thursday found organised crime was involved in trafficking illicit performance enhancing drugs and had infiltrated some sports businesses.
($1 = 0.9697 Australian dollars)
(Additional reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne, editing by Michael Perry)