An amateur soccer team in Sweden was subjected to vicious online abuse, including death threats, after one of its practice games received unusually large exposure on betting sites amid the coronavirus pandemic.
With sports around the world in lockdown, soccer is only being played in a few places. In Belarus, the country's top division continues as normal, while in Sweden only practice games between lower-league teams are still allowed to go ahead.
Skabersjo IF, a seventh-division team located near Malmo in southern Sweden, played Vastra Ingelstad IS on Monday. Skabersjo chairman Mattias Andersson said people — presumably from the betting community — from places like Hungary, Denmark, England and in Asia contacted his club on social media and email asking for information about such things as the team’s style of play.
“After the game,” Andersson told The Associated Press, “we received a lot of threats, death threats, where they said they wanted us all to be killed by COVID-19. It’s insane.”
Andersson said the players initially thought it was “a cool thing” that their practice games were coming under so much focus but then they became “very shocked.”
“We are all amateurs. Usually you cannot (bet) on our games,” he said. “It’s intimidating.
“I remember when I started marketing at university, I was told all publicity is good publicity. But in this case, I actually doubt that theory. The last days I have seen the dark side of the betting community, what it does to people.”
While top-level competitions and training matches have been canceled in Sweden during the pandemic, those at a lower level are continuing because gatherings of fewer than 50 people are still allowed in the country and there are limited restrictions on social mobility.
Andersson said there were no fans and just “a handful” of reporters at the match on Monday.
The Swedish soccer association has told clubs still playing during the pandemic to ignore messages from potential gamblers asking for team information.
Andersson said he hasn’t reported the matter to the police and will discuss it at the next board meeting.
Skabersjo plans to play its games in Division 5 — the next-to-last tier of Swedish soccer — as scheduled this season, with the team typically getting about 70 spectators for its games.
Betting sites have been starved of live sports during the pandemic, so some have resorted to headlining their platforms with the Belarusian league and play in Nicaragua.
The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has praised the betting market, saying it means fans abroad learn more about Belarusian teams.
Belarus has the only top-level soccer league still playing in Europe, despite criticism from international players’ union FIFPro.
Swedish teams Eskilstuna FC and Nashulta GoIF, from the seventh and eighth divisions, respectively, had a training match on Monday canceled on the recommendation of the Swedish soccer federation after staff members at the clubs were contacted by would-be gamblers.
Sixth-division club AC Primavera said it has also received threats and abuse after losses in training matches in recent weeks.
“Among other things, we were accused of having ‘fixed’ our own match,” Primavera chairman Daniel Karlsson told local media, “and someone hoped we would all die from the coronavirus.”
Two Swedish training games — Kungsangens IF vs. IFK Lidingo, and Sollentuna vs. Foc Farsta — are slated for Thursday on some betting sites.
AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth in Düsseldorf, Germany, contributed to this story.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80