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26 Jan 2012

Why cheating in sport is still a problem and what it means for the Olympics

Notwithstanding the shock felt by many cricket fans over the recent Pakistani spot-fixing case, cheating and corruption has long been a problem in sport. Ever since Hanse Cronje admitted taking money from betting syndicates in India and around the world more than a decade ago, the integrity of the modern game of professional cricket has been tarnished.

It has long been known that huge illegal betting markets operate all over the world. TV coverage of sport now includes obscure matches and races. Low-level competitors earning a modest living from their sport suddenly find their endeavours beamed around the world and become vulnerable targets for unscrupulous bookmakers seeking to influence the outcomes of matches or parts of matches. Even at first-class level, cricketers in Pakistan earn a fraction of the sums available to their English or Australian counterparts, and the temptation to boost one’s income with lucrative offers of cash for one small no-ball may be all too great. By its nature, spot-fixing can be very difficult to detect.

Cheating and corruption in cricket has a longer reach than many in the game would care to admit. Last week, Mervyn Westfield, the former Essex fast bowler with a bright future, admitted to accepting £6,000 to give away a predetermined number of runs in the first over of a Pro40 match at Durham in September 2009. The Westfield case confirmed the place of cheating at the heart of the English game of cricket, and those who are caught would appear to be the tip of the iceberg. Sport has become big business, with both legal and illegal betting markets growing rapidly and specialist forms of betting, such as on brackets and specific over scores, giving more opportunities for those inclined to cheat.

With an illegal betting market estimated by INTERPOL as being worth $500bn in Asia alone, every type of sport is affected by cheating. It is undermining the confidence of fans and undermining the regulated betting markets, whose careful monitoring systems enabled industry representatives to give police investigating the Pakistan spot-fixing case detailed breakdowns of betting patterns and any suspicious activities. Many regulated bookmakers would simply not take a bet on a single no-ball because such a bet would be wide open to corruption. The problem, many argue, is with the unregulated betting markets: unless gambling in Asia and the Far East is legalised and regulated, it simply cannot be policed. In many countries with serious illegal gambling problems, gambling is also a religious taboo and so there is little political will for reform.

The London Olympics

This summer, London will play host to tens of thousands of sportsmen and women competing in 26 different sports in the Olympic Games. The vast majority of competitors are amateurs, supported only by modest sponsorships or state funding, and may be from very poor backgrounds in developing countries. Many of these competitors could become targets for betting syndicates looking to spot-fix aspects of some events.

To combat this, the Olympics Minister, Hugh Robertson, announced on 1 January that a special intelligence unit will be set up to target spot-fixers. The unit will monitor suspicious betting patterns and share intelligence on those who attempt to bribe athletes into fixing events. It will comprise the International Olympic Committee, Gambling Commission and if required, the police. Hugh Robertson said as he made the announcement that “At some stage over the next two or three years, we will have some other sort of betting scandal in some sport. I just hope it’s not at the Olympics.” He said Western betting authorities were well equipped to identify illegal activities, but criticised regulation in the Far East and sub-continent.

During the games there will be an “email hotline” for people to report suspicious activity, and the government is consulting on changes to the Gambling Act 2005 to ensure that the Gambling Commission is able to share intelligence from police and other agencies.

Let’s hope these initiatives will be enough to prevent a repeat of the events of August 2010 at Lord’s cricket ground.

Robert Brown acted for Mohammad Asif in the Pakistan spot-fixing case and spoke in January at a seminar held by the Society for the Study of Gambling at ICE Totally Gaming 2012 at Earls Court in London. (http://www.totallygaming.com/event/ice-totally-gaming-2012/page/seminars).

Corker Binning is a law firm specialising in corruption and general criminal work of all types. Call now on 0207 353 6000 to see how we can help you.


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