Corruption in sport: Send match fixers to the slammer
Is match fixing and sports corruption a big enough problem to suggest that offenders should be thrown into jail for up to 10 years? You bet!
There have been one or two major betting-related incidents in Australian sport. Personally, I was closely involved when Shane Warne and Mark Waugh got themselves involved with the now notorious “John the bookie” back in 1998.
But for me, the issue actually goes back further to 1990 in my days at the National Basketball League, when I first started thinking about and studying the issue.
Nothing I have seen since has encouraged me to think that this is anything other than a potentially major issue for one of Australia’s most cherished institutions, its major sports.
A list of major sports betting incidents since 1998 across global sports as varied as horse racing, snooker, Sumo wrestling, F1 car racing and cricket shows little going wrong in Australia.
But it is clear we need to act now to keep our sports clean and to deter the sharp operators and smarties who might try to make a fast buck out of sport through their corrupt influence.
This is the strong view of Australia’s major sports: the AFL, NRL, ARU, Cricket Australia, FFA, Tennis Australia and Netball Australia.
It’s a view we put to Federal Sports Minister Mark Arbib when he visited AFL House in Melbourne on Wednesday and it’s a view we want the State and Territory Sports Ministers to take on board when they meet today.
Globally, there is a strong signal that where there is a punt, there is a temptation to rig.
And Australians love to punt almost as much as they love their sport.
In moderation, there is nothing wrong with that, it adds a little innocent excitement to the passion of supporting your chosen sport.
However, the Coalition of Major Participation and Professional Sports, or COMPPS, which is made up of the above sports, notes that sports betting on professional sport in Australia is growing in terms of volume of betting and the number of types of bet that can be placed.
The CEOs of our member sports recognised, when we met on Wednesday, that both these trends increase the risk of betting-related corruption.
Australian sports have been pretty successful in dealing with the issue to date.
But COMPPS members acknowledge that betting-related corruption is a major threat to the integrity of our sports and, just as importantly, to perceptions of our sports.
As Chairman James Sutherland said on Wednesday: “Even the perception that something could be wrong is enough to undermine a sport’s public credibility”.
We acknowledge that the starting point begins with us and, to that end, Australia’s major sports set up a working party involving COMPPS members, Tabcorp, Betfair, the Australian Sports Commission, and the AFL and NRL Players’ Associations.
Our work shows that sports need to make this a priority, with robust codes of conduct dealing specifically with betting-related corruption.
These need to be supported with sports-specific criminal laws for serious cases.
Ten-year prison terms are pretty serious punishments but it is a serious issue. If crooks undermine public confidence in a sport, that sport and all that it brings in terms of public enjoyment, national pride, promotion of healthy lifestyles, economic activity and employment of thousands is compromised.
We only suggest 10 years behind bars for the most serious offences, and expect that such cases would be very rare.
But the deterrent effect would be permanent and would help scare off the match fixers.
We also acknowledge we need first-rate education for our participants to create a population of well-educated athletes who know how to recognise and respond to attempted match-fixing.
Sport needs appropriate intelligence gathering, including robust agreements with sports betting companies.
And we need access to experienced investigators as part of a well-managed enforcement process within that sports code. Again, my personal history has me most familiar with cricket, which now has an anti-corruption officer at each and every international match played in the world, including here in Australia.
Just this week a professional tennis player was banned for life as a result of high-level investigation and a robust enforcement process.
The COMPPS anti-corruption working party has made 30 recommendations to its member sports.
The three most important are that we seek sports-specific, nationally consistent laws that make cheating in sport related to sports betting into a criminal offence; that states urgently consider adopting Victoria’s Sports Betting Act which requires betting companies to share information on suspicious activity with sports; and that sports be given the right to veto spot betting within a sport that might be high risk.
We also plan to set up a Betting Integrity Group to co-ordinate joint activities across the major sports and maximise our opportunities to use our collective power to fight corruption.
But we need help.
Our appeal to today’s meeting of national Sports Ministers is for national consistency, and for laws which are specific to sport.
Australians love their sports nationally across state and territory borders and we need not only toughness on this, we need consistency.
Current laws could see a corrupter commit an offence in Perth, Sydney and Brisbane and receive totally different punishment in each location. Nationally consistent laws will change this.
While COMPPS speaks for all major sports, recent match-fixing trials involving Pakistani cricketers emphasises what COMPPS stands for.
Pakistani cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were banned by the International Cricket Council and have been committed to stand trial in the English criminal courts later this year.
This is a sad episode for the sports world but it leaves lessons to be learned.
It underscores the importance of properly established betting organisations with close relationships with sports, whereby detailed information is shared. Shared knowledge leaves fewer places for match-fixers to hide.
The fact that the match-fixing plot was uncovered by newspaper is a triumph of investigative journalism but also highlights the need for high-level investigation and enforcement from government and sports bodies, as stressed in the COMPPS working party paper.
When the Pakistani trio faces a criminal trial in England in October, there is a very real possibility of jail terms. Strong sentencing will make a statement about match-fixing: it won’t be tolerated.
And this is why COMPPS is strongly campaigning for specially designed criminal law that sees match-fixers facing jail terms in Australia.
Sport is an important part of the Australian way of life, and for many Australians over many generations it has been part of how we identify ourselves as Australians.
Let’s give ourselves a sporting chance of protecting this precious asset for future generations by ensuring the match fixers and corrupters get a clear signal that there is no future punting on bent results.
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