By Kevin Roberts, Editorial Director, Sport Business Group
That was the question being debated in Qatar this week at the annual conference of the International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS), the organisation set up as a hub of security focused research and services for the world of sport.
It is a question which might at first, seem purely academic. After all, what sports body has the authority required to act as a police unit in investigating allegations, seizing evidence and bringing criminal cases against suspects?
The answer is the Australian Football League, the body which governs Aussie Rules football and which is often cited as the best run and most commercially successful sports bodies in the world.
Brett Clothier, who runs security at the AFL, told the conference that his team worked closely with police forces and had been granted the muscle to conduct serious investigations into alleged malpractice. That includes the ability to seize computers and documentary evidence and compel witnesses to come forward.
Unfortunately the AFL is more or less alone in its ability to tackle one of the biggest problems facing modern sport from the inside. For the rest the solution has to be co-operation and the sharing of information between law enforcement agencies and sports bodies and the desire of governments to recognise and take action against a problem which has the potential to undermine an entire industry.
Match fixing comes in many forms and so often driven by unregulated bookmakers. According to Chris Eaton, head of Integrity at the ICSS, the centres of activity and the focus of his team’s attention include Singapore and Manila.
Match fixing is big business, with some bookmakers operating in black or grey markets turning over billions each year. This is big time organised crime and the people behind it are ruthless gangsters who will stop at nothing to line their own pockets. They prey upon vulnerable athletes, officials and others to discover and exploit weaknesses and, in doing so; undermine the very fabric of sport.
Sport’s willingness and ability to address the problem differs widely and the well-organised AFL integrity operation is the exception rather than the rule. However, the work being done by the ICSS in raising awareness of the issues gives some reason to be optimistic about the future so long as it is supported by other bodies and agencies.
Match fixing will not simply go away and it will not be tackled by any single organisation. Winning this war demands a multi-pronged approach which starts with compelling and comprehensive education for athletes and officials, the buy-in of police forces worldwide and the extreme vigilance of governing bodies. It has to be a joint enterprise.