Legalise Betting to fix Problem in Sports

Published: 21st January 2016 12:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st January 2016 01:56 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: That tennis has harboured both fixers and players looking for a quick buck doesn’t come as a surprise. Widespread reports in the past have alluded to a wider problem and a joint investigation by BBC and Buzzfeed on Monday put the issue front and centre.

With it dominating the tennis world, Express spoke to Scott Ferguson, a former head of Education at Betfair (he worked there during the infamous Nikolay Davydenko/Martin Arguello case in 2007) to fully understand the issues at hand. Excerpts: Were you surprised that it took somebody so long to come out with such a report? Not really, the tennis betting world has been resigned to inactivity from authorities for years. They make a big song and dance about sanctioning players for corruption.

Ever heard of names such as Elie Rousset, Sergei Krotiouk or Claudia Coppola? No, and neither has anyone else. (All the above mentioned payers have been handed fixing bans). What were the things that stood out the most from the report? The level of detail handed to the ATP in the Davydenko / Vassallo Arguello case is incredible. More than enough information there to kick both players off the tour, but not enough to prosecute a criminal case. But they dropped the ball. 

When the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) was formed in 2008, why exactly did the new body decide to let all the suspect players be without pursuing further action?  The new laws couldn't be used retrospectively apparently, although being corrupt/fixing matches was already against the law anyway. If they declared an amnesty, I could understand it - a fresh start and let's clean the game up. But they didn't. 

Analysing in-play patterns... Pre-match favourite loses the first set and then goes down an early break in the second set. Entirely believable situation, but the giveaway is the money flow - enormous amounts of money lining up to back the player seemingly in a desperate position. The bets are made, and lo and behold, the match turns and the player with little hope of winning turns into a Rolls-Royce and runs away with the match.

 Why exactly has tennis become a fixers’ haven? And can you give a sense of the monies involved per year? Billions, it's the second biggest sport for betting in the world behind football. Team sports are harder to fix - too many people to get involved, too much money to pay, and too many mouths to keep quiet. A one-on-one sport where winning or losing comes down to matter of inches - it's perfect for it.  Cricket has already fallen prey to spot fixing. Isn’t tennis another sport that might not be immune to fixing a particular event within the total contest? Cricket is at risk of spot fixing because of markets like run brackets.

There is huge liquidity in these markets. In tennis, not so much. Point and game betting relies on a bookmaker to set the odds, and if they smell something is up, those markets disappear. The real money is in manipulating the odds during a match and betting heavily at the biggest possible prices.

Is it ironic that governing bodies of most sports ban athletes from betting but have no problems in appointing them as sponsors in big-ticket events? Some people have an issue with it, I don't. When Stella Artois sponsor a tennis tournament, do the players really need to be told they shouldn't be out drinking until 4 in the morning and then driving home? The players are the performers, they get paid well. Sponsors are there to sell their business to spectators and worldwide TV audience.

A few people already want betting to be banned. But wouldn’t that push it underground as it cannot be regulated then? Cricket betting is banned in Asia - how's that going? Prohibition never works, better to regulate it, license it, tax it, enforce anti-money laundering and anti-fraud regulations, protect the vulnerable, use betting data for forensic investigations of suspicious activity.

You will never stop corruption in society - it permeates all parts of life. Should we honestly expect sport to be any different? It’s almost impossible to implicate anybody without phone and bank records. What is the logical next step? True, but at the same time, corruption can still be set up with a handshake and a brown envelope.

 It's about linking together a lot of pieces in the puzzle, and the burden of proof in corruption is less than in doping, which is less than a criminal case. So this isn't necessarily a grand jury case, but obviously when you start making big allegations against players who have done well financially out of tennis, some of them might be able to afford very good lawyers.

Ferguson, an Australian, is currently a wagering industry consultant. He runs the website sports is made for betting. (He wants to be referred to as a Wagering Industry Consultant. Kindly retain it). Tried shrinking the copy as much as possible. Apologies as it's still too big.  

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