Biggest Threat to Sports Integrity Comes From Within

23rd September 2009 8:43 am GMT

The threat posed to the integrity of sports by betting is becoming a smoke screen that is increasingly difficult to hide behind, particularly in light of recent scandals in motor racing, football and rugby, leading to calls for the creation of an independent body to fight corruption in sports.

While no one can argue that manipulation of sports by betting syndicates does not exist, the reality is that the most concerted efforts at manipulation are made by criminal elements via illegal bookmakers, and not as it is suggested, by online gamblers who in the majority bet for relatively small stakes through regulated bookmakers.

Sport has becoming an increasingly lucrative business as demonstrated by the salaries of the top sports people. In football for instance, the combined salaries of the top three highest paid players amounts to an incredible €80 million.

With such lucrative compensation packages on offer to sports people, and equally lucrative opportunities existing for the teams, it is little wonder that those at the pinnacle of sports are willing to do anything necessary to win a slice of the financial pie, from theatrical diving in football to life threatening choreographed crashes in Formula 1.

The most recent scandals in sport boil down to the issue of money, but it is not gambling money that causes these actions. The actions of certain teams and players that have recently caught the international headlines are planned and executed from within in order to manipulate referees and the situation at hand in their favour, thereby securing their interests in an increasingly lucrative industry.

And with such astronomical sums in the balance, sports regulators are more and more disinclined to effectively combat or even admit to the threat posed to the integrity of sports by its own financial success. Much easier instead to lay blame squarely at the foot of bookmakers, playing on often outdated fears from an unregulated past where gambling and crime were synonymous, as opposed to today's reality of international publicly listed operators regulated in multiple jurisdictions.

As recently as yesterday, a delegation of sports representatives were meeting with the UK's Sports Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, arguing that bookmakers be made responsible for fighting corruption in sports and looking to lay claim to a portion of their profits in order to clean their own houses.

The delegation cited the recent ECJ ruling in the bwin / Santa Casa case as an opportunity for the government to further regulate bookmakers.

Perhaps if regulators are to do more to protect sports from bookmakers, bookmakers should be stepping up pressure to protect consumers from sports. How many consumers around the world would have placed a bet on McLaren or Ferrari to win at Singapore last year, only to lose out because of internal corruption in F1?

For the European Sports Security Association (ESSA), the answer is an independent oversight body that will not shy away from taking decisive action to penalise cheats.

ESSA, a bookmaker funded European sports security association, employs an early warning system which monitors for suspicious betting and notifies sports regulators of potential illegal activity. The association currently has information sharing protocols in place with FIFA, UEFA, FA, WTA, ATP and numerous other sports bodies.

"It's in the interest of all sports bodies to promote their own sports and engage in damage limitation when a scandal breaks," said Khalid Ali, Secretary General of ESSA. "This means that they often don't apply the rules as rigorously enough as they could or should, or hand down the tough penalties that would act as effective deterrents. This latest episode is a prime example of this phenomenon. Corruption in sports is a global issue that requires a global answer."

Mr. Ali was commenting on the ruling handed down by the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) this week to the Renault Formula One racing team, which was found guilty of arranging a crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

WMSC ruled on Monday that Renault was guilty of "breaches [€¦] of unparalleled severity", but the Renault team received only a suspended sentence and has been allowed to compete to the end of the 2011 season. The WMSC found the Renault team had not only "compromised the integrity of the sport" but also "endangered the lives of spectators, officials [and] other competitors".

ESSA maintains there exists a fundamental contradiction with sports bodies self-regulating on issues of integrity. Often faced with a conflict of interest between protecting the reputation of their sport and applying effective sanctions, sports bodies too often lean in favour of the former.

In response to calls by sports bodies to impose a levy on bookmakers to fund their anti-corruption activities, ESSA describes their argument as spurious and asserts that the problem of corruption and match-fixing go much deeper, to the very heart of sports.

"To lay the blame for all sports corruption at the door of the betting industry is a mistake and morally wrong: this has been amply demonstrated by recent scandals in Formula One, Rugby, Handball and even Lawn Bowls, where none of the match-fixing scandals involved any links to betting," said Ali.

"It is unacceptable for sport federations to use the issue of sports integrity as a pretext to seek additional revenues from the gaming industry, when it is the members of sports federations themselves€”whether players, coaches or officials€”who are routinely found to be the origin of corruption in sports.

"The only effective way to tackle this malaise in sports is by applying stiff penalties: as sports federations themselves seem incapable of combating corruption within their respective sports, we see urgent need for a global sports policeman."

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