11/23/09 – Last week around 300 police officers conducted more than 50 raids in the largest ever move against the perpetrators of corruption in football. Fifteen people in Germany and two in Switzerland were arrested for alleged interventions over the outcome of matches in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Hungary, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Austria. The matches involved three Champions league fixtures and twelve Europa League games.
The scale of the investigations took the sporting community by surprise, with Uefa representative Peter Limacher describing the events as the biggest match-fixing scandal ever to hit Europe. Uefa General Secretary Gianni Infantino has promised “zero tolerance” of any form of corruption in European football. Measures used to limit the impact of corruption include an early warning system introduced by Uefa earlier this year to flag up unusual betting patterns, by monitoring real-time gambling.
In light of a September ruling from the European Court of Justice, which declared that betting carries a high risk of fraud, and betting companies that sponsor competition "may be in a position to influence the outcome of events”, a dangerous assumption is to believe government-run bookmakers will be in a stronger position to combat corruption and report unusual betting patterns than those in the private sector. Yet there is no evidence to support this conclusion.
Legitimate suppliers from the private sector have a strong record of bringing unusual betting practices to light. During last summer’s Wimbledon, betting exchange operator Betfair alerted tennis corruption investigators to unusual betting patterns during the first round match between Wayne Odesnik and Jurgen Melzer. Furthermore, to ensure such incidents are systematically identified, the organisation has agreements in place with 42 sporting regulatory bodies around the world.
Several of the football matches under investigation in the past week were based in Germany and Hungary, countries with state-run bookmakers in place, yet due to illegal betting through bookmakers believed to be based in Asia, the incidents were not immediately reported.
The solution to targeting corruption in sport is not restricting the provision of bookmaking to government-controlled monopolies, but ensuring transparency from suppliers and good practice among legitimate operators. With competition between bookmakers and betting exchanges, the value offered to consumers will alleviate the temptation to resort to murky, illegal markets, which are exceptionally difficult to police and can act as hives of corruption.
The Right2bet campaign continues its pursuit of an open gambling market across the EU.
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