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Best practice for sports organisations when managing betting compliance risks (the Rob Howley case)

Rugby Players
Friday, 25 October 2019 By Louise Skinner, Chris Warren-Smith

The sports betting industry is growing at an unparalleled rate. Thanks in no small part to the US Supreme Court opening the door to legal sports wagering across the USA, it is predicted that the value of the global sports betting market will reach approximately $155.49 billion by 20241. While such growth presents significant opportunities for many different organisations, it also heightens the potential risk of corruption and match-fixing. Indeed, efforts to address betting-related corruption in sport have gathered momentum in recent years, as incidents involving several high-profile sporting fixtures – such as the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, the 2010 England-Pakistan test series, and the final day of the 2019 La Liga – cast doubt over the integrity of some participants in these events.

The seeds of a similar episode began to grow on the back pages ahead of this autumn’s Rugby World Cup in Japan. It emerged that Rob Howley, Wales’ backs coach, had been asked to return home2 by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) amidst allegations that he had breached World Rugby’s betting rules (the Allegations). Public information about the Allegations remains limited3 and time will tell whether they are substantiated. With investigations ongoing, the matter has triggered public interest in the rules applicable to betting on sports. Importantly, the episode has highlighted the need for those involved in sports, and organisations more generally, being aware of the best practices for ensuring compliance with applicable rules and regulations, managing crisis situations, and handling the implicated individual during the investigation itself.

Accordingly, this article analyses World Rugby’s regulations on betting and the Howley case, before reflecting more broadly on how sports organisations can best address betting compliance risks, including:

  • strategies to ensure compliance with the regulatory framework;

  • strategies for crisis management and response; and

  • striking the right balance when managing suspensions.

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Written by

Louise Skinner

Louise Skinner

Partner, Morgan Lewis

Louise Skinner provides sophisticated, strategic advice on all aspects of employment law, with particular focus on regulatory employment matters. Described as “truly exceptional and insightful” by clients in The Legal 500 UK guide, Louise advises on issues including investigations, contractual disputes, whistleblowing, discrimination and restraint of trade. Louise has particular experience in the financial services, life sciences, and sports, media and entertainment sectors.


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Chris Warren-Smith

Chris Warren-Smith

Parnter, Morgan Lewis

Chris Warren-Smith represents clients in investigations and disputes matters, including corporate investigations, commercial and international litigation and arbitration and dispute resolution, and regulatory enforcement proceedings. Representing clients across all sectors, Chris has worked on many high-profile issues and crises that have arisen over the years. He serves as deputy chair of the firm’s white collar and corporate investigations practice and as a member of its global crisis management team.


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