Integrity in Sport & Best Practice

Match-fixing and corruption is hot in the press right now with cases in both Tennis and Cricket hitting the headlines. The Stats Zone offer their 10-point best practice guide for how sporting federations can tackle the issue. From our experiences of working within the betting industry, with betting fraud detection systems, at professional sports clubs, and with major international sport federations, we are perfectly placed to give our thoughts on the way forward.

The first stage for any federation, organisation, event or team is to accept that there is a very real threat of match-fixing or corruption within their sport. Burying heads under sand or believing it does not exist is purely naïve and foolish. It occurs in some shape or form in every sport and at every professional level where betting is possible.

Data shows that match-fixing is more common in countries, leagues, competitions and events where salaries are often on the lower scale in a particular sport. This effectively involves every sport out there. While there may not necessarily be betting opportunities on an ongoing basis, there may be markets available when the sport is being played at a global level, and these can be high risk. Even if your sport has not hit the headlines, or may not appear to be at risk due to little money circulating in the sport itself, this may make it an attractive proposition for fixers for those very reason.

The question of sporting integrity is so wide ranging it can effectively involve all stakeholders in a sport. Whether it is coaching staff, agents, players, athletes, officials or administrators, everybody shares a common responsibility to preserve the integrity of the sport just as much as external bodies such as bookmakers, media, the government and police.

Education should involve all stakeholders and awareness is vital as it can be quite simple for innocent individuals to become complicit in some aspects of match-fixing unintentionally. Whether it be divulging confidential information or ignoring suspicious occurrences, everybody in the organisation is responsible for preserving integrity, as much as those on the field of play.

Any Code of Conduct with regards to integrity, should be circulated as extensively as possible and even form part of employment contracts.

It is not just athletes that need to be educated about match-fixing and corruption, and events and circumstances around it. Whether it be suspicious activities around hotels rooms or the actual competition itself, a general awareness is vital especially in competitions which are not televised.

When a federation or organisation manages their own competitions, they have the opportunity and transparency to regulate and monitor activities on site. There are greater risks however when external companies may be involved. It is the responsibility of the rights’ holder to share such knowledge and education with external service providers.

Even something as simple as recognition that data is being unscrupulously collected at the venue, basic training can improve awareness at events and help combat potential issues.

This is one area which some international sport federations do particularly well with Football and Cricket leading the way. While some athletes may not appreciate a return to the classroom, education is fundamental for informing them of the many dangers associated with this criminal activity. Workshops particularly targeting their youth competitions are frequently run by UEFA and their competitions, while the ECB and PCA in English cricket also educate their players through courses annually.

A reporting mechanism for individuals to report any information or even question marks about something should be made available. This is common in other problematic areas of sport such as racist or violent behaviour being reported in stadiums for example, but it is proven to be an effective method of flagging up issues. Many individuals are reluctant to openly report issues for fear of being castigated or risking their own reputations or relationships. Ensuring an anonymous hotline or email address is available, and properly communicated to all involved, is a key method in the identification of corruption.

The setting up of a network of Integrity Officers has proven to be a successful approach in some sports. As well as acting as liaison officers for cooperation between the authorities and state law enforcement agencies in relation to suspected match-fixing, Integrity Officers exchange information and experiences with the federation’s administration regarding the prosecution of corrupt or criminal practices affecting the sport. They monitor disciplinary proceedings and coordinate relevant action, as well as organising educational programmes as part of an effective preventative strategy.

Arguably the most important factor when it comes to detection of corruption is utilising the data collected for the sport in question. Collecting data is relatively expensive but the potential benefits are significant to an organisation as a whole as much as for preserving integrity. The risks of using third party data providers can minimal, but it is important to understand the methods of collection and the impact it can have from a betting perspective. Court-siding in Tennis has been one example of data collection being illegally utilised in arenas where the speed of collection is quicker than data feeds used by bookmakers. This is not a manipulation of the game itself, but of the betting process where the market is hit before the bookmakers can close it, and is just one example of how the speed of data collection can have a significant impact on betting.

Data and video are two core elements in detecting patterns. Matches which are not televised may be more prone to manipulation for example, so the reliance on the data feed is absolutely crucial. Having the data officially collected by approved individuals is one way to help ensure the legitimacy of the data itself.

Most betting fraud detection systems incorporate reliable betting odds feeds combined with an analytical element. Taking the competition data along with the odds data, enables an expert analytical mind to spot irregularities even without video for early detection.

The corruption scandal involving Pakistan cricketers in 2011 was one of the first highly publicised instances where it was not the outcome of the game that was fixed, but specific events within the game. It has been noted about errant passes by football players going for throw-ins early in games could potentially be signs of fixed events on smaller betting markets such as First Throw-In.

International Sport Federations can help avert the risks by creating their own list of betting markets for best practise purposes advising bookmakers on what markets they should and should not offer.

It is relatively common to fear the unknown, but building relationships with established bookmakers is a key step to preserving integrity in sport. The ability to share knowledge is vital, and bookmakers possess the information and data to help flag up any irregular patterns. Many sports authorities, events and teams have embraced betting companies as sponsors, and even that relationship could act as an impetus to build relations.

It is not just bookmakers who can share knowledge and information. There are legitimate syndicates and individuals who bet professionally who possess as much knowledge and intelligence, if not more, than the bookmakers themselves. Opening communication channels with them can be just as beneficial.

Disciplinary regulations must be introduced to stamp out the threats of match-fixing and corruptions. Too many sports do not possess specific and explicit punishments in their statutes and regulations which would help serve as a deterrent. In the current climate, many cases go to arbitration and punishments can vary. Essentially, any individual (athlete or administrator) should be fully aware of the punishment they will receive if found guilty of corruption.

The length of the punishments should be severe and act as a deterrent. The threat of a five-year suspension may not deter a sportsperson from taking the chance as the rewards from fixing a game or event could easily be great than their regular income over that period of time.