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Anti-corruption experts: UK needs sports integrity unit

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By Nick Harris

1 February 2010

Britain needs a multi-sport anti-corruption unit with wide-ranging powers to tackle the threat of betting-related malpractice, according to a substantial government-commissioned report, published today.

The Sports Betting Intelligence Unit, which will be based at the Gambling Commission if it comes to fruition, has been proposed by Rick Parry, the former chief executive of Liverpool, and a panel of sports betting integrity experts, who were commissioned last summer by the sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe, to look at the issue.

British sport is no more susceptible to match-fixing than any other country but the Commission has considered more than 50 cases from horse racing, football, snooker and other sports in the past two years, and fresh incidents continue to arise.

Well-placed sources within enforcement agencies have revealed that several sporting cases of suspected criminal activity, including in football, have effectively been ignored because there are no clear guidelines, at present, over who should handle them. The report hints at this by saying: “Experience in GB has shown that police do not generally regard the investigation of ‘sporting crime’ as a priority.”

In some cases, a governing body has passed responsibility to the Commission, which has then asked for police help only to be told it is not in the public interest to spend time and money on betting allegations when resources are needed  to combat terrorism, drugs, street crime or whatever. Parry’s recommendations set out, in considerable detail, how a co-ordinated strategy would tackle betting corruption most effectively.

The most recent high-profile betting case in English football concluded last year when five players linked to Accrington were banned and fined for betting on Accrington to lose a match in 2008. Several other cases are being probed by the FA.

A snooker case has recently been dealt with by Strathclyde police, who have passed on a file to prosecutors for consideration. Racing, cricket and tennis have all had well-documented problems, and Parry’s report says there now needs to be a multi-agency approach to prevent and deal with betting-related offences in sport.

Sports governing bodies will be required to improve education programmes to warn players against illicit gambling. Major governing bodies were asked what measures that have in place and the report found that “a very limited number of those surveyed provided what could be considered a comprehensive education programme around betting.”

The report also recommends that a “dedicated whistle­blowing line” should be established, and it was acknowledged that “some sportspeople have identified themselves as having problems with gambling” and need appropriate “advice, assistance and counselling” to cut the risks of further problems.

The report’s other key proposals include:

– The implementation of a comprehensive education programme on sports betting integrity for competitors, run with the help of sports governing bodies and players associations.

– A new code of conduct on sports betting integrity for all sports governing bodies to adhere to.

– The setting up of a Sports Betting Group, made up of individuals from the world of sport that will assess sports’ compliance with the code of conduct.

– Every sport to have a system for capturing intelligence and report regularly to the Sports Betting Intelligence Unit.

– A review of the definition of ‘cheating’ in the Gambling Act 2005 to see if it needs greater clarity.

– A review of the Gambling Commission’s investigative powers to ensure they are sufficient to best tackle corruption in sports betting.

– A review of the two-year maximum sanction, under the Gambling Act.

Parry says that the government “absolutely” needs to adopt all the report’s proposals, and not just a few in isolation. “It’s a complete package,” he added. “We have to take the toughest possible approach if we want to stamp out cheating – and that’s why it’s so vitally important that the recommendations are taken on board and followed through. This should be a no compromise approach.”

Sutcliffe welcomed the report and said he will “announce [the] next steps in due course. I am very keen to keep up the momentum on this vitally important work.”

The report can be downloaded in full by following this link at the DCMS website.

Ten cases related to suspicious betting and with links to the UK from the past two years are reviewed by sportingintelligence here.

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