Sport and gambling united against cheating

By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

Image caption, Gambling on sport can now be done at the touch of a computer button

Sport and gambling have been in the headlines in the recent months, with various allegations about match-fixing in snooker.

And the sport's chief Barry Hearn has admitted "there may be other revelations we have to deal with in the future".

However, for those tasked with policing the sport for illegal activity, it can be hard to know if a shot was missed deliberately or not.

And snooker is not alone in facing the challenges of potential financial corruption, with the likes of football and horse racing also coming under the microscope in recent years.

Only last month, the eight-year ban from European competition imposed by Uefa on Macedonian club FK Pobeda for match-fixing was upheld.

Football integrity

"There is an awful lot of money sloshing around football, and where you have a lot of money you can have a lot of crime," says Matthew Johnson, head of legal regulation at the Football Association.

Mr Johnson's job involves upholding the integrity of football at all levels in England, as well as educating players about issues such as gambling.

Image caption, FK Pobeda players celebrate a goal in a match from July 2005

He says that in recent years, there has been a huge growth of televised football, which, coupled with the ease of gambling online, has led to an explosion of betting on football around the world.

In fact, it is now challenging horse racing as the largest sport betting market globally, with much of the huge boom in football gambling coming in Asia.

Mr Johnson told the C5 conference on Sports Law and Business that in season 2009/2010, there was betting in Asia on 250 Blue Square Conference matches - the fifth tier of English football - and on 190 English youth and academy games.

"Now you can bet to lose," he says, referring to the gambling process known as "lay betting".

"But if a player bets on his team to lose, even if he is injured, that raises massive integrity issues and affects perception of your sport.

"We are trying our best to get the message across - the real issue in football is that there is a very much ingrained culture of betting among players, not just on football matches."

'Educating players'

However, despite the ease of betting, he does not believe there are FK Pobeda-type cases in English football.

Mr Johnson states that in the past few years, there have only been about 10 cases that the FA has had to investigate, and a couple of cases involving players betting on their own team to lose.

"Part of our role is educating players, and we also want to be able to license which games bookmakers can take bets on," says Mr Johnson.

"With players at youth level being under 18 and more susceptible to pressures, we would not want any betting on these games.

"Our role is also to liaise with the Gambling Commission, which regulates commercial gambling, and if a criminal offence is involved, we would not be prosecuting, but would piggyback on a police or commission prosecution."

Mr Johnson added that there was a feeling within sport that with gambling firms making large profits, more money could be returned to governing bodies, so that they could use that money for policing and enforcement of possible sporting breaches.

'Lifted the rug'

Horse racing has not been free of controversial incidents in recent years, with a high-profile court case and numerous TV investigations.

Oliver Codrington, head of compliance at the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), is at pains to point out that the industry is "trying to ensure our sport is free from corruption".

Image caption, The Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the baseball World Series in 1919

"We have lifted up the rug to see what is underneath," he says.

His colleague, Paul Scotney, is a former policeman who for six years has been director of sporting integrity at the BHA.

Mr Scotney says that betting on sport has been transformed by the internet from a niche pastime to a "central leisure pastime for many people, not a peripheral thing".

But he points out that corruption caused by gambling in sport is nothing new, pointing to the case of the the Chicago White Sox baseball team of 1919.

Eight of the team, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, were accused of taking money from gamblers to throw the World Series.

"We have to accept that where money is involved, there will be always be someone looking to cheat - we have to make sure they are caught," says Mr Scotney.

Five point plan

And, like the FA, Mr Scotney points out the danger that can be done to a sport, even if there is just a perception that something is wrong.

Image caption, Horse racing says it has taken a close look at its industry

"It only needs one event to be talked about for the sport to suffer, that has been seen in some cases in tennis and cricket recently."

Mr Scotney highlights five areas that have to be addressed to help ensure clean sport.

They are: clear rules and regulations, an investigative and intelligence capacity, robust disciplinary structure, ongoing education programmes, partnership approvals with the betting industry and gambling commission/police.

"Investigating suspicious betting patterns is a must," he adds. "Then it can be cleared and the incident in question will no longer be referred to as a suspicious match."

And the gambling industry is as keen as its sporting counterparts to ensure that sport is not contaminated by corrupt betting.

'Common ground'

David O'Reilly, legal counsel with online gambling firm Betfair, says that his company regularly shares information with sports bodies and the Gambling Commission.

His firm also has an eight-person "integrity" team, which is part of a bigger anti-money laundering team.

Image caption, Betfair is one of the biggest sport online gambling sites

"There is common ground between sport and gambling, in that it is in everyone's interest for sport to be clean," he says.

He adds: "I don't think it is up to us to say how sports should regulate their players, but education about gambling is a good starting-point."

And he says that the firm stores extensive client data - such as each bet made and the event, selection, stake, odds and winnings - that can be referred to in cause of suspicious betting.

This online "audit trail" can be enhanced by phone records that the firm keeps, as well as the use of analysis software that can show unusual betting patterns.

"I believe that fixing in relation to sport is low-level, but we will all suffer if people don't believe sport is clean, because they will not bet on it," says Mr O'Reilly.

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