Sports Betting Integrity and the Olympic Movement – 10 key questions answered
Sports betting and match-fixing received the full and comprehensive attention of the Olympic Movement it deserves only really for the first time at the London 2012 Games last summer.
However, the recently elected new International Olympic Committee (‘the IOC’) President Thomas Bach stated upon taking office that this was one of his principal areas of concern.
It was his predecessor Jacques Rogge who inserted a sports betting monitoring and co-operation clause to combat the threat of match-fixing in the Host City Contract for the London Games. This has remained in place for Rio 2016. Being the first incarnation of the Olympic Games to include such a clause there was some uncertainty as to how the operation would run during London 2012. The IOC decided to set up a Joint Assessment Unit (‘the JAU’) to deal with the threat throughout the duration of the Games. An evaluation of the success of the JAU and lessons that can be learnt for Rio 2016 called “Working together to protect the Integrity of Sport: the Role of the Joint Assessment Unit at the London 2012 Olympic Games” (‘the Report’) was published by the Gambling Commission (‘GC’), the regulator in Great Britain for commercial gambling, in March 2013. The Report can be found here. This Report followed a fascinating presentation I attended back in October 2012 in London by the IOC and the GC titled “Lessons from London 2012”. This piece will provide an overview of the operation that took place at London 2012 and the important lessons that were learnt and need to be taken forward by the organising committee of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
1. What does the report cover and why is it important?
The Report reviews the way in which the JAU performed its mandate from its inception to the end of the London Olympics. For a quasi-governmental body such as the GC the Report is an unusually thorough and frank insight into the JAU’s operations. Not only that but its importance lies in the lessons that the GC believes can be learned for future hosts of both summer and winter Olympiad.
2. How much betting was there at the games?
Based on the data that the JAU was able to capture, it is said that the amount staked by customers or matched on betting exchanges on Olympic sports during the Games was a minimum of £350 million with over 9 million bets placed. This was ten times higher than the levels seen for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. All of those figures may seem high in isolation but the Report is at pains to stress that in comparison to the levels of betting on usual major sporting events, those figures were actually quite low. The example the Report uses is the Men’s Olympic Tennis Final between Roger Federer and Andy Murray, the two of whom had played previously that summer in the Wimbledon grand slam final, with the Olympic final attracting only 20% of the bets wagered on the Wimbledon final. It should be borne in mind however that it is not clear from the Report how much of the estimated market the JAU were able to cover, and I suspect that there is a large amount of betting, particularly from the Asian markets, which was not captured by the International Sports Monitoring service used by the IOC.
3. What is the Joint Assessment Unit and who was involved?
The focus of the JAU was to ensure that the UK was prepared to receive and quickly assess the information relating to possible corruptible betting activity and assist the primary decision makers and stakeholders in determining an appropriate response. From initial viewing this is a fairly narrow mandate. This was to be both in the run up to and during the Games. In essence it was a mechanism for the collection, collation and assessment of information. Key stakeholders involved in the JAU were:
- London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games;
- International Olympic Committee;
- Gambling Commission and their Sports Betting Intelligence Unit;
- UK Police;
- Non-Olympic Sports;
- Sports Governing Bodies and International Federations;
- Betting Operators and Associations;
- International Sports Monitoring;
- Interpol; and
- The Media.
4. What issues did the JAU face during the games?
Although the preparation and feasibility process for the JAU had begun 18 months prior to the beginning of the 2012 Games, the JAU was actually operational from the day after the opening of the Athletes Village until the day of the Closing Ceremony, 29 days in total. During that period there were a total of 16 reports/actions logged with the JAU. Interestingly the majority of these came from monitoring of the media. The fact that the JAU acted as a ‘co-ordination hub’ meant that stakeholders were notified of issues within a very short period of time after they had been identified. All of those incidents, although all unfounded, were logged by the JAU and therefore left a robust audit trail.
Part of its success is attributed to the fact that the JAU knew prior to the Games that the challenge for them would be two-fold: to protect stakeholder interests and putting theory into practice. Early stakeholder engagement to gain agreement as to high level operating principles was vital. The delivery model conceived during the feasibility process was designed to evaluate that the JAU was tested thoroughly through scenario-based testing sessions prior to the Games. This raised good questions of capabilities and competences, both for the JAU and its various stakeholders, highlighting the importance of the depth of understanding of all the organisations involved. This meant that there were no surprises during the operational phase of the JAU.
5. Was the infamous badminton scandal investigated by the JAU?
This is touched upon briefly in the Report itself but having asked a question at the aforementioned presentation in London prior to the Report, I was told that the badminton scandal was indeed one of the 16 logged actions. For those who are not aware of what happened during this particular incident, in short, four pairs in the women’s doubles badminton tournament took to the court on Tuesday 31 July 2013 for the final match of the group stages. Each pair had already qualified for the knockout phase and to ensure a favorable draw in the next round farcical scenes unfolded whereby all four pairs deliberately tried to lose their matches. During the matches the crowd audibly voiced their disapproval of the debacle and it made headline news around the world. Thankfully, the governing body of the sport, the Badminton World Federation, disqualified all eight players from the tournament very promptly the next day. However given the part of the world where the players came from (South Korea, China and Indonesia) with the Far East being hot both for match-fixing activity and illegal gambling syndicates, there were some suspicions voiced as to whether there was a betting corruption element in addition to the sporting motivations to fix the matches? Both the IOC and GC confirmed to me that although it had been investigated there was no evidence found of the misdemeanors being related in any way to irregular betting. It would perhaps have been good at the time if the JAU had issued an official press release dispelling any such possibility, because as far as I am aware there was no such statement made. What it did leave to, from a governing body perspective, was a change in the format of the tournament for future Olympic Games so that there are no “dead rubber” games which are often the subject of match-fixing, as has been seen in Italian and Spanish football for example.
6. How central to the JAU’s approach was media management?
As has been mentioned previously, the majority of the actions logged by the JAU were due to monitoring of the media. This was because journalists often identified cases that were unusual or unsporting practices had allegedly occurred across all the different disciplines during the Games. One such common example was controversial decisions by the judges in the boxing.1 In the report the GC say that the interactions between the JAU, the IOC ethics commission secretary and the press was a key factor in enabling effective determination of lines of enquiry to take and for these to be disseminated clearly to other relevant parties as quickly as possible. Furthermore it is said in the Report that monitoring of the media offered crucial reassurances that betting integrity was not the driver behind a suspicious incident. This inclusion and encouragement of good and close relations with the media is something I have advocated previously; the media should not been seen as acting contrary to the interest of sport, rather they are (in the main) interested in maintaining and upholding its integrity and can use methods and resources not available to governing bodies.
7. What lessons can be learned from the experience of the JAU?
This is undoubtedly the most important section of the GC’s Report. 12 separate ‘Learning Points’ are listed in Section 5 of the Report. In general the view was that the JAU model could be deployed and enhanced to provide similar, even more effective support, at future games and other major sporting events. Not all of the Learning Points need to be elaborated upon here and are self-explanatory, however there are a few which deserve further discussion.
Learning Points 6 and 7 once again state the importance of the media and it is said that any development of a future JAU type model should include phases scenario-based testing escalating in complexity and involving media management arrangements. Furthermore, the benefits of collaborative working with all stakeholders, including the media, promoted and resulted in positive responses to request from the JAU for further information.
Learning Point 8 addresses the need to embrace legitimate/licensed betting operators. It is in legitimate operators’ interests to maintain the integrity of sport because legitimate gamblers will not gamble if they believe the event which they are betting on is already predetermined. This Learning Point highlights again the importance of good relationships by ensuring that operators are listened to actively and are reassured that their contribution and efforts are valued and appreciated. Importantly this applies not only to the gambling regulator in the county which is hosting the Games but also to as many of the betting operators themselves, and/or the gambling associations, in as many jurisdictions as possible.
Learning Point 10 talks about the detailed profiling that took place of each Olympic sport by the JAU to find out their respective inherent risks and vulnerabilities to ensure the resources of the JAU were used as effectively and efficiently as possible. Monitoring was therefore prioritised for those sports which were more at risk of corruption and integrity problems. This will have become apparent through previous weak or comprised governance, doping or match-fixing.
8. What was the most important learning point?
In my view there are two particularly important statements in Section 5 of the Report. Learning Points 4 and 10 highlight a major problem faced in the fight against the ills of match-fixing. The Report says it would be prudent to ensure that law enforcement investigators have an understanding of the type of criminal threats posed by and associated with match-fixing. This is certainly true from my own experience and not only is the criminal threat underplayed and misunderstood by both the police and the sports governing bodies, be it fraud, money laundering, violence or human trafficking, but there is also an inherent lack of understanding about how betting markets work. Unfortunately these twin misunderstandings lead to a lack of convictions or even interest from law enforcement in particular. I often say this is because match-fixing is not often viewed as a “glamorous crime”.
Linked closely to this, even if there is an impetus to actually investigate to try and obtain evidence there are significant hurdles currently in converting intelligence into suitable evidence. This is why a number of investigations which are taken over by the police then collapse and are passed back to the sport, sometimes years after the allegations were made, by which time the reputation and faith in the sport has been irreparably harmed. What is encouraging is that a recent case from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘the CAS’) has shown that to overcome these evidential difficulties the CAS has shown a willingness to accept betting monitoring patterns and expert evidence thereon as sufficient to ground a life ban from a sport for match-fixing.2
9. How will future Games deal with threats to integrity from sports betting?
The GC believes that the JAU model can be deployed successfully at, and indeed be enhanced for, future summer and winter Games. To achieve this they suggest even earlier stakeholder engagement with arrangements being put in place at least two years prior to the commencement of the Games. Interestingly, shortly before the release of the Report in March 2013, the IOC passed stringent rules on betting for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in 2014 (‘the Sochi Rules’).3 The use of a JAU model in Russia is not mentioned; rather there has been the use of a cross-stakeholder working group.
The Sochi Rules themselves are very comprehensive and seem to strike a good balance between detail and flexibility. The Sochi Rules cover the principal offences of: betting, manipulation of results in the context of betting (i.e. match-fixing), corrupt conduct in the context of betting, and use of inside information. The Sochi Rules also then go on to cover other offences which often arise in the criminal law: attempts, knowingly assisting or otherwise being complicit in acts or omissions, a failure to disclose, and a failure to co-operate with an investigation. With regards to the failure to disclose, the parties could abide by the relevant rule by using the anonymous email address/hotline stated therein as set up by the IOC for this purpose. However, it has been shown time and again that those people within the sport/competition covered by the regulations do not use integrity reporting mechanisms set up by the sport/competition itself due to a lack of trust often with the governance of that sport. It would be better for integrity reporting mechanisms to be operated by a truly independent service, such as Crimestoppers which has had some notable success in football and horse racing with such a service.4
10. What rule does the IOC have to play in the wider fight against match-fixing moving forward?
Back on 1 March 2011, under the auspices of the IOC, the Founding Working Group on the Fight Against Irregular and Illegal Betting in Sport was established (‘the Working Group’). This was to assist the IOC in its collaborations with public authorities. The Working Group recently had its fourth meeting in May of this year, with a number of recommendations being set out formally under the three separate heads of:-
- Education and Information;
- Monitoring, Intelligence and Analysis; and
- Legislation and Regulations.5
One of the key recommendations the members of the IOC, and the relevant national bodies, are being asked to support is a draft Convention of the Council of Europe on the manipulation of sports competitions. This is an ambitious project which is currently in the drafting phase, and although I applaud their efforts in principal, I somewhat question outside of the Council of Europe how many high risk jurisdictions for sports betting integrity are going to Register to this in the medium to long term?
There is also mention of a reporting system, which I discussed previously, and I stress further the need for independence and the guarantee of anonymity and confidentiality is absolutely paramount for the reporting mechanisms to be taken any notice of by what is termed in the recommendations as (amongst others) “athletes, their entourage and officials.” The Working Group is correct in saying that the protection of the integrity in sport cannot be waged by the federations and governing bodies alone, particularly where evidence of a criminal nature is required, however I have previously mentioned the reluctance and/or inability of law enforcement agencies to deal with this transnational global issue and therefore there needs to be consideration given to the need for concurrent sporting investigations and criminal proceedings to take place so as to fully protect the perception, image and integrity of sport.
In my view the key broker and leader in the global fight can be the IOC as they are seemingly the only body with the necessary political, social and sporting clout to bring all the key stakeholders together under a common umbrella, using the experience gained with the JAU during London 2012, to provide a coherent, powerful and above all effective strategy for Sochi 2014 and beyond.
2 FK Pobeda, Aleksander Zabrcanec, Nikolce Zdraveski v UEFA (CAS/2009/A/1920)