How to protect the integrity of sport - key points from the Sport and Sports Betting Integrity Action Plan

Published 08 January 2016 By: Leigh Thompson

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Over recent years there has been a steady flow of cases involving match-fixing, spot-fixing and the misuse of inside information from across many sports and countries. These cases have drawn attention to the difficulties of protecting sport from betting corruption.

The very nature of sports betting corruption means that it presents specific challenges for those charged with stopping it; often it involves a range of sporting participants (athletes and officials but also administrators), highly mobile corrupters who operate across different sports and national borders and betting on both legal and illegal markets.

Stakeholders in the public and private sector therefore have to collaborate to combat this threat, sometimes across different legal and sporting jurisdictions, while very often constrained by limited resources and restrictions on the ability to share information and intelligence.

As a result, the debate within sport integrity circles has focused around a key question: how best to organise the relevant stakeholders to overcome these constraints in order to tackle sports betting corruption effectively?

A number of commentators have called for a global body to tackle sports integrity issues,1 possibly in the mould of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or some other form. Others have gone as far as to launch a global ‘integrity platform’ bringing together governments, NGOs and sports bodies in what might best be described as a ‘coalition of the willing’.2

Against this background, a recent development in Great Britain is of particular significance. On 16th September 2015 the Gambling Commission – the regulator for the gambling sector in Great Britain – launched The Sport and Sports Betting Integrity Action Plan (hereafter the ‘SBI Action Plan’).3 For the first time, the SBI Action Plan sets out:

..the expected focus of agencies, sports governing bodies (SGBs), player associations, betting operators and government in delivering timely and effective actions to identify and control risks associated with match-fixing and sports betting integrity.4

This article looks at the creation of the SBI Action Plan in more detail and its wider national and international significance.

 

Background to the SBI Action Plan: Policy evolution

The SBI Action Plan has its roots in a number of key policy developments in the field of sports betting integrity in Great Britain over the last five years. The first of these was the publication in February 2010 of the Government-commissioned Report of the Sports Betting Integrity Panel chaired by Rick Parry (‘the Parry Report’) which made a series of important recommendations designed to improve the integrity of sport and sports betting.5 Key amongst these were the creation of the Sports Betting Group (and its associated Code of Practice6) to provide leadership for the sports sector and enhancements to the Sports Betting Intelligence Unit (SBIU) to create a comprehensive, centralised betting intelligence capability within the Gambling Commission.7

More recently, in December 2014, the UK Government published the UK Anti-Corruption Plan.8 The plan sets out a cross-government approach to tackling corruption and includes a number of actions aimed specifically at addressing corruption in sport, including implementation of the SBI Action Plan itself.9 The UK Anti-Corruption Plan therefore locates the SBI Action Plan within a broader policy context and the clear linkages identified between sport and other Government anti-corruption activity ensures there is wider political accountability for its delivery.

In this context, the SBI Action Plan can be seen as the latest in a series of evolutionary developments in sports betting integrity policy in Britain since 2010.

 

Implementing the plan: The Sports Betting Integrity Forum

The Sports Betting Integrity Forum (SBIF) is the key body charged with developing and overseeing delivery of the SBI Action Plan. Launched officially in November 2014, the SBIF comprises representatives from all of the key stakeholders involved in protecting the integrity of sport and sports betting including:

While not represented formally on the SBIF, the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), as the official sponsor of the Gambling Commission, acts as the lead Government department for the SBI Action Plan.

Like the SBI Action Plan itself, the creation of the SBIF can be traced back through a number of important initiatives since the Parry Report, each of which was an attempt to address gaps in knowledge, jurisdiction and expertise through collaborative working between key stakeholders. The first of these was the establishment of the Tripartite Forum in 2011.10 As the name suggests, the Tripartite Forum brought together the Gambling Commission, betting operators and sports bodies to tackle sports betting integrity risks at a detailed, operational level.

The second initiative was the deployment of the Joint Assessment Unit (JAU) at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012.11 The JAU brought together, among others, the Gambling Commission’s SBIU, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Metropolitan Police and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) to:

…ensure that the UK was prepared to receive and quickly assess information related to possible corrupt sports betting activity and assist primary decision makers in determining the appropriate responses, in the run up to and during the Games.12

Thus, while the SBIF has since superseded the Tripartite Forum, it can be seen as a natural product of these collaborative initiatives and a reflection of the maturing relationships between key stakeholders over recent years.

The structure of the SBI Action Plan

The SBI Action Plan comprises two main parts. Part 1 sets out the overall strategic approach and defines the key activities each stakeholder is expected to undertake in order to protect integrity in their respective spheres of influence. Part 2 sets out ten specific actions to be taken forward by one or more stakeholders.

Central to the SBI Action Plan’s overall strategic approach is the need for:

…key stakeholders to plan for and act within their areas of responsibility, support others where appropriate and work in unison as part of the broader national platform that is the basis of our strategic approach. A crucial aspect of this approach is the culture of co-operation and co-ordinated actions which is reflected in the approach of the Sports Betting Integrity Forum…13 [Emphasis added]

This focus on co-operation and co-ordination is an explicit recognition that, while individual stakeholders have regulatory control or influence over certain organisations or individuals, the extent of this control is, by its nature, limited.

For example sports governing bodies have rules and contractual mechanisms by which they can regulate the behaviour of participants but these do not extend to corrupters from outside of sport who may be involved in corrupt betting and other criminal activity.14

Tackling sports betting corruption effectively therefore requires all parties to work together to overcome these limitations and create, so far as is possible, a seamless approach to prevention, detection and deterrence.

 

Part 1: Requirements on key stakeholders

Part 1 of the SBI Action Plan is broken down into individual sections, each setting out the activities expected of the SBIF and its key stakeholder groups:

  • Sport (including sports governing bodies and player associations);
  • Licensed betting operators;
  • The Gambling Commission;
  • The SBIU, law enforcement and Government.

A number of key sections are discussed in more detail below.

Sport (including Sports Governing Bodies and Player Associations)

Sports governing bodies (SGBs) and player associations are expected to undertake a range of activities in order to protect the integrity of their particular sports. Of particular note are the requirements to:

"Develop and deliver effective education programmes for athletes, coaches, officials and those in governance roles to raise awareness and knowledge of the threats posed by those that would corrupt the integrity of sport from within or outside the sport...

Ensure that their codes of conduct, betting rules and contractual provisions establish clear frameworks to enable sanctions to be applied…

Establish the policies and capabilities that enable them to identify and respond to match-fixing and corruption issues…15

The first of these requirements reflects the importance of education as a means of preventing sports betting corruption and the role played by player associations, working in concert with SGBs, in delivering effective education programmes. Experience from a range of sports indicates that betting education is often most effective when it is delivered in a secure environment and involves other athletes.16 In this respect player associations act as an important ‘bridge’ between athletes and SGBs.

The second of these requirements reflects the fact that education in and of itself is not sufficient to prevent betting corruption – a clear deterrent is also necessary. SGBs are therefore expected to ensure that they have explicit rules and contractual provisions in place to enable the levying of sanctions where participants become involved in sports betting corruption. Good examples of contractual frameworks on betting integrity can be found in the British Horseracing Authority’s Rules of Racing17 and the England and Wales Cricket Board’s Anti-Corruption Code.18 Both set out clearly the precise scope of the rules, the relevant specific betting corruption offences and the sanctions to be imposed in the event of any breach.

The third of these requirements is particularly important given the dynamic nature of sports betting corruption and the growth in new betting markets. While all major SGBs have well-developed anti-corruption policies and capabilities it is imperative that these remain fit for purpose. Changes in technology, new betting products, evolving criminal capabilities and advances in good practice all make the regular assessment of integrity functions essential. The British Horseracing Authority’s recent Integrity Review is a clear example of how SGBs are continually seeking to ensure they have the right policies, structures and expertise in place to address future betting integrity challenges.19

More broadly, the SBI Action Plan recognises that a number of sports – notably those that have had little or no history of betting association – may be at risk from betting corruption as they develop greater profile and exposure.20 In this context, a key role of the Sports Betting Group and its constituent members is to extend support and advice to other SGBs which may be at risk from sports betting corruption but which may not have the same level of resources or expertise.21

Licensed betting operators

Aside from meeting their existing statutory obligations,22 a key task for betting operators is to:

…Provide information on irregular betting and/or suspicious sports events quickly to the Gambling Commission’s SBIU and where possible provide the relevant SGBs with sufficient information to conduct an effective investigation in accordance with the provisions of Licence Condition 15.1…23

In order to be licensed in Great Britain, all betting operators – including those based overseas offering bets to British customers – must comply with the Gambling Commission’s Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP). The LCCPestablish a range of obligations on operators including Licence Condition 15.1 which sets out when and with whom they must share information on suspicious betting activity.24 In particular, Licence Condition 15.1 requires operators to share information with those SGBs specified in Schedule 6, Part 3 of the Gambling Act 2005.25

Since SGBs are not a direct party to the LCCP, it is imperative that betting operators comply with the requirements of Licence Condition 15.1 to ensure that SGBs are provided with information that may be relevant to the prevention or detection of competition manipulation as soon as possible.26 Information passed on expeditiously may enable an SGB to intervene before an event or aid further investigation into a breach of sports rules.27 In this context, Licence Condition 15.1 acts as a key mechanism to support the free flow of information between stakeholders. This is of particular importance given the increase in licensed operators as a result of the recent move to a ‘point of consumption’ regulatory regime in Britain.28

The Gambling Commission

The Plan commits the Gambling Commission to, inter alia:

…[Ensuring that] only operators suitable in terms of their integrity and competence will be licensed as sports betting operators and remain so…

[be] responsible for the development and operation of the SBIU, the confidential reporting facility and the Crimestoppers facility…29

These requirements reflect the fact that the Gambling Commission plays an important role both as a regulator and as a conduit for intelligence.

As the statutory regulator for the gambling sector, the Commission acts as a ‘gatekeeper’ by ensuring that operators are able to demonstrate high standards of integrity before receiving a licence. As with information sharing, this requirement has become more pronounced in light of the new ‘point of consumption’ regime whereby any betting operator wishing to serve the British market must be licensed regardless of where they are based.30

In addition, the Gambling Commission (and within it the SBIU) plays a central role in gathering and disseminating intelligence. A principal source of intelligence is clearly betting operators, many of whom have a well-established relationship with the Commission. However, aside from direct engagement with operators, the Commission also gathers intelligence from two further sources:

  1. A confidential reporting line operated by the SBIU which is specifically designed to gather intelligence on sports betting corruption.31 This is a public-facing line which is open to a wide range of potential sources including but not limited to betting operators, sports participants, law enforcement, the media and members of the public.
  2. Through access to reports made by the general public to the charity Crimestoppers which relate to betting integrity.32 As with the SBIU reporting line, the Crimestoppers line is public-facing but is aimed at gathering information on a broad range of crime, including gambling-related crime.

In this way the Commission ensures it has access to a range of sources and can pass on intelligence gathered to relevant stakeholders where appropriate.33

 

Part 2: Specific actions to be taken forward

Part 2 of the SBI Action Plan establishes ten actions to be taken forward by one or more stakeholders or, in some instances, the SBIF itself. A number of these are procedural in nature, for example to review progress and publish a report annually. However, two actions are of particular interest.

Firstly to:

Develop and establish information exchange protocols consistent with the provisions of UK law and Data Protection Act guidance.34

The key underlying objective here is to enable information to be shared between different stakeholders as quickly and easily as possible, subject to overarching data protection requirements. Putting in place clear, standardised protocols will help to ensure all stakeholders understand what is required of them in terms of information security and the basis upon which information can be requested or provided. This, in turn, should reduce bureaucracy and associated delays.

Secondly to:

Review the adoption of the Sports Betting Group’s Code of Practice to determine its effectiveness.35 [Lead: Sports Betting Group]

This action will assess the extent to which SGBs have, where appropriate, implemented the steps outlined in the Sports Betting Group Code of Practice and which are considered good practice in terms of protecting integrity.36 Aside from providing an accurate picture of existing practice, this action fulfils another important purpose which is to draw out the lessons from SGBs’ experience in implementing integrity measures to inform future good practice. As already noted, it is important SGBs review regularly their approach to integrity to ensure it remains fit for purpose and reflects wider developments in policy and practice.

Although adoption of the Sports Betting Group Code of Practice is not mandatory, it is considered industry-leading good practice and most major SGBs have implemented its recommendations in full (or with variations where appropriate). Nonetheless, looking ahead, a much wider range of SGBs may be required to implement measures to tackle betting corruption.

The UK Government’s recently published new sports strategy37 makes clear that, in future, those SGBs seeking public funding will be required to implement a new UK Sports Governance Code.38 While the details of this new Code have yet to be worked through, it is likely it will contain specific requirements in relation to protecting integrity. In this context, the Sports Betting Group Code of Practice (or some elements of it) may form part of the new, mandatory UK Sports Governance Code to be applied by all publicly-funded SGBs.

 

Commentary: The wider significance of the SBI Action Plan

Overall, the publication of the SBI Action Plan represents a significant step in tackling sports betting corruption in Great Britain and is of wider significance nationally and internationally for a number of reasons.

The fact that multiple public and private stakeholders are engaged in the Plan is a recognition that no entity alone is responsible for the problem of (or indeed has all the solutions to) sports betting corruption. In a world of increasingly constrained resources, a joined-up, coordinated approach is the only viable way forward.39

The Plan is an acknowledgement by all parties with an interest in sport and sports betting that they have a stake in protecting integrity and, with that stake, comes responsibility. Put simply, the success or otherwise of the Plan relies on each stakeholder playing a full part and taking responsibility for those areas over which it has control. This reflects the important and welcome development of a more mature and open relationship between sport, betting operators and regulators on integrity matters.

The Plan is a formal public document. It is therefore a means of holding all stakeholders to account and ensuring each delivers on the actions it has committed to take.

As its title indicates, the Plan embodies the fact that sports betting corruption impacts not just on sport (through the manipulation of sporting competitions) but also on legitimate betting companies and their law-abiding customers (through the manipulation of related betting markets and the placing of fraudulent bets).

Similarly, the Plan is a recognition that sports betting corruption presents significant reputational risks: to individual athletes who may be tainted by association with corruption and also to the UK more widely, both as a place to do business and as the host of major sporting events of global significance.40

Finally, the Plan can be seen as a contribution to the wider, international debate about the need for legal, regulated sports betting markets to help protect integrity. A significant proportion of sports betting corruption continues to occur in illegal and unregulated markets – very much out of sight and often beyond the reach of the law.41

Against this background, the SBI Action Plan demonstrates that an approach based on open, legalised betting markets ensures sports betting activity is exposed to the full glare of regulatory scrutiny for the benefit of all involved: sport, betting operators, gamblers and the wider public. Without the transparency and visibility afforded by legalised and regulated markets, stakeholders in other jurisdictions are likely to remain hamstrung in their efforts to prevent sports betting corruption.

Ultimately, the full impact of the Plan will only become clear with the passage of time. However, in the context of the ongoing debate about how best to organise stakeholders to protect the integrity of sport, it provides a useful model for other countries to learn from when developing their own plans to address the threat of sports betting corruption.

 

 

 

 

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Author

Leigh Thompson

Leigh Thompson

Leigh is a Policy Adviser at the Sport and Recreation Alliance, the umbrella organisation for the governing and representative bodies of sport in the UK.

His main areas of focus include sports betting integrity – principally providing support to the Sports Betting Group – as well as broadcasting, tax and fiscal policy and EU sports policy. He has a background in policy and regulation having held similar posts in other sectors prior to joining the Alliance.

Leigh holds degrees in Economics and Public Policy and recently completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Law. He has a keen interest in the legal and regulatory aspects of sport.

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