Two of the men who put the doping crisis in the global spotlight say that the integrity of sport now faces a greater threat from match-fixing than drug cheats.
Richard McLaren, who authored a 2016 report into state-sponsored Russian doping, and David Howman, former director-general of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), painted an alarming picture about match-fixing at the Symposium on Match Manipulation and Gambling in Sport in Toronto on Wednesday and Thursday.
McLaren said that doping and match-fixing combined are the two biggest issues affecting the integrity of sport, but manipulating outcomes is a bigger problem.
“What makes sport different than entertainment is unpredictability. Fixing results removes the greatest and most important characteristic: that unpredictability,” he said. “If it loses unpredictability because of fixed results the passion for sport is diminished and that is a much bigger issue.”
Match-fixing has become increasingly pervasive across a number of sports.
More tennis players, for example, were disciplined for breaches of anti-corruption rules last year than in any other year in the past decade.
A number of cases in other sports have also brought renewed attention to the issue.
Recent punishments include the banning of a soccer referee for life in February for accepting bribes to manipulate matches and the suspension of two snooker players for fixing the outcome of matches or failing to report a corrupt approach.
Organized crime has been the driving force behind sports corruption, and the globalization of sports betting has allowed crime syndicates to extend their reach, Howman said.
“I have done a lot of work in the general sport integrity area and I can quote you what I am told by people who work in that more general business, including enforcement agents, and they all say the biggest threat to sport integrity is organized crime,” Howman said. “The bad guys involved in pushing dope and steroids are the same bad guys involved in match manipulation.”
Andy Cunningham, director of integrity services for Sportradar, a company that monitors betting patterns, said that exact figures for how much is bet on sport are at best a “guesstimate.”
Interpol set the figure at US$500 billion per year.
Sportradar in 2015 reported that it had identified as many as 60 fixed matches in the Canadian Soccer League, a small league operating mostly in Southern Ontario with few supporters that was for years the target of Asian match-fixers.
In the most recent Sportradar report, Cunningham said that the league had largely cleaned up its act and Asian bookmakers had lost interest, but it is an example of just how far the tentacles of gambling syndicates reach.
The targets are often amateurs or the less well-paid in professional sport.
There is no global agency in place to fight corruption in sport in the way WADA was set up to combat doping, nor is there ever likely to be such an organization, Howman said.
Instead, the fight is being left to often ill-equipped individual sporting bodies, governments and law enforcement agencies.
“Everyone is resisting another WADA,” Howman said. “They don’t want to have an independent body taking control over their fiefdoms and they don’t want to see another fall like a Russian fall.”
“What I think will occur is step-by-step. Tennis is confronting it now, cricket has confronted it. There are sports where there is already entrenched match-fixing,” he added. “Protect the reputation of your sport people and the sport, and better to get out in front than wait for a disaster and then react.”
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