BERNE (Reuters) - Match-fixing is a "major problem" in Greece where 12.8 percent of players interviewed in a recent survey said they had been approached and asked to manipulate a game in the last year.
The survey, conducted by Birbeck, University of London on behalf of the world players' union FIFPro, said it was also a major problem in Italy, although the number of cases that have been exposed may have been a sign of willingness to tackle the problem.
Footballers in England, meanwhile, said they did not believe that match-fixing had affected the game. None of those questioned said they had been approached to fix a match in the last year or had any reason to believe that any matches in their league had been manipulated during that period.
Around 1,500 first and second division players in England, Scotland, Greece, Slovenia, Finland, Italy, Hungary and Romania were interviewed in the survey as part of FIFPro's "Don't Fix it" campaign.
The campaign was started in 2012 to educate players about match-fixing and tackle the causes which lead them to accepting offers to get involved.
Among 17 questions on match-fixing and gambling, players were asked if they had ever played in a game later identified as having been fixed; if they had been approached and asked to fix a match in the last year; and if they had any reason to believe matches in their league had been fixed in the last year.
In Greece, 29 players, or 13.7 percent of those interviewed, said they had played in matches which had been fixed, with nine of those saying they were suspicious at the time, and 12.8 percent had been approached in the last year.
Sixty-four percent said they had reason to believe that games in their league had been fixed in the last year. This was far higher than any other country and compared to 13.6 percent for Romania, 11.8 percent for Italy and 10.4 percent for Slovenia.
"The results...indicate that match-fixing is a major problem in Greece," said the survey.
"The staggering number of players who had reason to believe that matches in their league has been fixed in the past 12 months is remarkable...this piece of evidence, while uncorroborated as it stands, should alert the football authorities to investigate further."
In Italy, where dozens of players have been banned following the Calcioscommesse scandal in the second and third divisions, 11.8 percent of players said they believed matches might have been fixed in the last year.
"The significant number of cases that have come to light in the past year may well reflect on Italian football’s desire to tackle match-fixing rather than be indicative of a growing problem," said the survey. "Nevertheless, it shows that match-fixing is still a major issue in Italy."
In Finland, 20 percent of players said they had taken part in a match later identified as fixed, although only 9.2 percent said they had reason to believe matches had been fixed in the last 12 months.
"The significant number of players who have played in a match that has since been identified as fixed, and the number who believe that matches in their league have been fixed in the past 12 months suggests that match-fixing remains a serious threat despite the welcome absence of any recent cases," said the survey.
Singaporean national Wilson Raj Perumal was sentenced to two years in prison and nine soccer players, seven Zambians and two Georgians, were given suspended sentences in 2011.
The court said Perumal was part of a group that tried to fix matches played by the Rovaniemi club between June 2008 and February 2011.
The report was encouraged by figures in Hungary, where few players (1.6 percent) had been approached, and worried about working conditions in Slovenia.
"The relatively low figures in respect of players who have been approached or believe games have been fixed is encouraging as are the figures on the number of players who would report approaches," it said, referring to Hungary.
"Wages, working conditions and labour rights are a priority (in Slovenia). The case shows that for interventions to be successful, the conditions under which corruption emerges need to be addressed alongside player education and campaigns."
The survey concluded that country-specific campaigns and solutions were needed to tackle the problem.
"A one-size-fits-all approach to player education, such as those developed by external organisations, is unlikely to be effective,” it said.
"The economic, social and cultural factors that drive match-fixing and the conditions under which it emerges are fundamental threats to the integrity of football and, left unresolved, are likely undermine interventions such as player education and reporting," it added.
"Protecting players, even in circumstances in which decision-making on corruption maybe beyond their control, remains an important priority."
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty