By Nick Harris
26 April 2010
Forest Green Rovers of the Blue Square Conference have said they are “amazed and disturbed” that the Football Association was apparently not involved in an investigation into suspicious betting patterns surrounding a game they played a year ago today – on 26 April 2009 – against Grays Athletic.
Rovers will now write to the head of the FA, Lord Triesman, to ask a series of questions about the handling of the case, which has apparently concluded with the Gambling Commission saying there is insufficient evidence for it to act. Rovers say this is exoneration.
At the same time, sportingintelligence has learned that another “suspicious betting” case being looked at by the Commission, this time in tennis, has also ended with a conclusion of “no further action”.
The case in question involved a first-round men’s singles match at Wimbledon in 2009 between America’s Wayne Odesnik and Austria’s Jurgen Melzer. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were bet on Odesnik to lose in straight sets in a match that would normally attract a small fraction of those sums. Odesnik lost as the betting suggested.
The Commission opened an investigation after Betfair reported unusual betting patterns but the GC has decided not to look at the case further but won’t actually confirm this publicly.
A number of key questions remain unanswered in each case, including which body led each investigation and why; what resources they had; what they were trying to achieve (criminal or sporting prosecutions); whether the end of the probes actually mean “not guilty” or “not proven”; and whether any other body will now pick up the investigation for its own sporting reasons.
The Gambling Commission has just informed Rovers by letter that it has concluded an investigation into the Grays match – without speaking to any Rovers players – and that “there is insufficient evidence to prosecute an offence”. This came only seven days after Rovers’ vice-chairman, Colin Peake, was told by the Commission that its probe was still “very active”.
It is thought up to £50,000 was wagered collectively by numerous individuals at odds of 22-1 on Grays being behind at half-time in the match but winning. This outcome happened, but only after bookmakers including William Hill and Blue Square (sponsors of the league) had suspended betting over concerns about unusual sums of money being placed on this outcome.
The FA said it would launch an investigation, and the Commission became involved. Since then, there has been no public comment from either body.
Then on Friday, Rovers received a letter from the Commission saying an investigation had been concluded into “what might amount to the offence of ‘cheat’ as set out in Section 42 of the Gambling Act 2005, relating to the Blue Square Premier fixture played on Sunday 26th April 2009 between Grays Athletic and Forest Green Rovers.
“The Commission having considered the information gathered concludes that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute an offence under the Act.”
In response to the Commission’s letter, Rovers’ vice-chairman, Colin Peake, said: “At long last, after rightly keeping our counsel, we can now speak out. This whole investigation, starting from how it was first made public to the media by betting companies and the innuendoes which followed, has in my opinion been totally mishandled, firstly by the Football Association and subsequently by the Gambling Commission.
“Both clubs and their players have been smeared for a whole year, with apparently no substance of fact behind some of the lurid tabloid headlines. It has been nothing less than a total disgrace.
“The Football Association needs to urgently address the whole subject of what constitutes such reports being made by betting companies when they believe they see irregular betting patterns emerging on football matches. For instance, in the case of this specific match, why was it that this was the only match referred for investigation when we learned that a number of other matches also had betting suspended that same weekend? Being cynical, could it just be that this match was the only one which actually was the subject of a ‘payout’? Also some of the odds being offered seem out of all proportion to the teams playing.
“Further we are amazed and disturbed to learn, that whilst the Football Association contacted us within days of the media headlines at no stage did the Football Association inform us that the matter had been handed over for investigation solely by the Gambling Commission.
“When we recently complained to the Football Association of not having been officially contacted in almost 12 months we were just referred to the Gambling Commission who in turn told us that the enquiry was still very active. Yet in less than seven days we get this letter. The FA through its Regulatory Authority needs to oversee such serious allegations in our national game more rigorously and attentively than was the case here”.
Rovers added they would write to Triesman “seeking answers to certain questions and asking how these complaints can be handled better in future considering that no one in the club has ever been interviewed.”
Sportingintelligence understands the Commission and tennis’s integrity unit (TIU) ran their own separate (but linked) investigations into the tennis case.
The Commission appears to have acted alone in the football case. It is not yet clear whether the FA and TIU retain open files on the cases. The Commission has apparently ruled out prosecutions; sporting sanctions remain a possibility but only if the governing bodies take up or continue working on the cases.