A new unit to investigate corruption in sport and tougher punishments for cheats are new measures that have been recommended by a government review of gambling in sport.
Following increasing concerns about betting on sport leading to cheating, sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe commissioned a report, which was undertaken by Rick Parry, the former Liverpool chief executive, and which has proposed the creation of The Sports Betting Intelligence Unit (SBIU) – sport’s equivalent of MI5.
There are signs that match-fixing has become increasingly prevalent in sport, with tennis and football having been particularly targeted in recent times. At Wimbledon two years ago eight matches were reported to the authorities on suspicion that their results have been fixed by professional gambling syndicates. Last year, meanwhile, a number of Accrington Stanley players were caught trying to bet on their side to lose. In fact, no fewer than 48 suspicious betting cases in the 18 months to 31 March were referred to the Gambling Commission.
“The report that I’ve delivered to the minister presents a clear way forward in tackling the growing threat of corruption to the integrity of sport,” Parry said. “We have to take the toughest possible approach if we want to stamp out cheating – and that’s why it’s so vitally important that the recommendations are taken on board and followed through.
“This should be a no-compromise approach – the panel has identified a number of areas that need work and we now need the full sign-up of the government, the gambling industry, sports governing bodies, the police and the Gambling Commission to put them into practice.”
Parry’s report also makes the following recommendations: a comprehensive education programme for competitors, a new code of conduct on sports betting integrity for all sports governing bodies, every sport to have a system for capturing intelligence and report regularly to the new unit, a review of the two-year maximum sanction, under the Gambling Act.
“I am very keen to keep up the momentum on this vitally important work,” said Sutcliffe. “There is no place in sport for cheating of any kind and we must make sure we’re doing all we can to protect its integrity. But this issue cannot be tackled by government alone.
“The report puts a range of recommendations to sports governing bodies, bookmakers, the police and importantly the Gambling Commission. I hope all of these bodies will take this report seriously and consider in detail what practical steps they are now going to take.
All of the above sounds well and good in theory but the cynics will accuse much of it as being woolly and question whether or not the review isn’t just wishful thinking.
Firstly, if a tennis player decides to lose in straight sets, how can you prove that he didn’t feel unwell? Secondly, if a boxer decides to go down in the third round, who’s to say he wasn’t knocked out? And thirdly, the advances of science are such that drugs cheats are always likely to prosper in sports like athletics or cycling.
However, just because it’s hard to catch the cheats, it doesn’t mean that no-one should try. While there have been developments in medicine, there has also been huge progress in technology, so that the bookmakers and the betting exchanges now have very advanced systems to keep track of irregular wagering patterns.
It is also a measure of how important sport and betting in the UK have now become culturally, socially and economically that the government should seek to do something about preserving the integrity of both.
God knows Labour government has led us down the garden path in many ways in recent times but we should give them credit where it’s due.
After all, in some third world countries sports betting isn’t allowed at all.