Self regulation is the key to protecting integrity in sport
The publication of the Green Paper on Online Gambling earlier this year has inevitably led to a major rise in the volume of the debate over how best to protect integrity in sport.
As a not-for-profit organisation established by the leading licensed, regulated bookmaking industry to safeguard sports’ integrity, the European Sports Security Association (ESSA), has been on the front line in the fight against match-fixing for the past six years.
We believe that the model of self regulation that we have pioneered in Europe offers a blueprint on how the gaming industry can preserve betting integrity in sport, while at the same time balancing the interests of consumers with their protection.
Since its establishment in 2005, ESSA’s singular purpose has been the protection of betting integrity in sport. It does this first and foremost by acting as a monitoring system for fraudulent betting activity by coordinating the antifraud efforts of its member organisations, investigating instances of irregular activity and passing on anything suspicious to sports bodies and regulators for them to act on.
The battle against match-fixing is far from won but ESSA has had its fair share of success. In 2010, for example, ESSA members raised a total of 58 alarms; that’s 58 instances where bookmakers were concerned that the betting activity could be fraudulent. Of these, however, only on four alerts were regarded as suspicious. This is a very small figure, especially when you consider that match-fixing is regarded by some as a bigger threat than doping.
Match-fixing scandals have been making the headlines in recent months but Europe’s licensed, regulated bookmakers are rarely, if ever, involved. Often, the problems can be attributed to far-east betting syndicates that have infiltrated Europe. Put simply, when criminals seek to fix matches, they very rarely come to the licensed, regulated bookmaking industry to cash in on their deeds.
This is because licensed, regulated bookmakers are good at managing risk. They have been investing considerably in state of art security and know-your-client-technology – above and beyond the requirements of any regulator – and have become very good at spotting fraud in real time, wherever it is being perpetrated. This security operation is just as effective for in-play, or live, bets as it is for pre-match bets, contrary to many commentators, as the same real time technology is able to sound the alarm whenever a suspicious bet is placed.
This model of self regulation may not be glamorous, but it works, freeing up time for sports regulators to concentrate on catching the criminals, making it difficult for criminals to commit crimes and delivering a safe environment for consumers to be entertained.
The model could be made to work better: for example, ESSA has no powers of investigation or prosecution, so we often find that, as an organisation, we have little insight into what happens when we do pass on intelligence to the relevant authorities.
Ultimately, though, this model works because bookmakers are incentivised to invest in betting integrity. And because their relationship with sport is a symbiotic one, and therefore it is in both theirs and sport’s long term interest that crime is kept out of sport betting.
The growth in popularity in sports betting is a European success story that has brought economic benefits to Europe, provided consumers with a safe and legitimate pastime and channelled billions of direct and indirect funding into all levels of sports.
To build on this, Europe needs a model of self regulation that encourages cooperation between bookmakers, sports regulators and other stakeholders. It also needs a coordinated effort involving public authorities to kick match-fixers out for good.
Europe needs stronger governance within the sports themselves so that it becomes impossible for players, presidents, officials or anyone else involved to affect the outcome of a contest illegally. This way, we can continue to have a sporting environment we can all be proud of.
Khalid Ali is the Secretary General at ESSA, the European Sports Security Association. ESSA is a non-profit organisation formed by leading online betting operators in the EU with an aim to keep sport clean and free from manipulation by introducing an early warning system highlighting irregular betting patterns.
His comment is leading up to the Play the Game 2011 conference in Cologne early October, where Khalid Ali is among the speakers.
Read more about the comment series on corruption and good governance in sport.