Brian O’Connor’s Tipping Point: Legislative structures urgently needed to tackle integrity issues

Now’s the time to put in place procedures which allow Sports Governing Bodies to effectively protect sports they are there to govern

Qatari-based International Centre for Sport Security estimates $5 billion was gambled on the Germany-Argentina World Cup final alone. Only $1.25 million of it they reckon was legal.

Qatari-based International Centre for Sport Security estimates $5 billion was gambled on the Germany-Argentina World Cup final alone. Only $1.25 million of it they reckon was legal.

Mon, Aug 4, 2014, 06:00

Football officials in Thailand are trying to solve that country’s match-fixing problems by getting referees to swear an oath before an Emerald Buddha. Any western temptation to scoff should be tempered by the reality that it’s as meaningful a move as most anything being done about corruption by many administrators closer to home. And in Ireland we know all about trusting relics and hoping for the best.

My problem with shock-horror headlines about match-fixing used to revolve around the mundane consideration of ‘getting on’. Even the rawest of gamblers quickly realises that getting someone to take your bet is never a problem but getting paid can be.

And stories about mysterious syndicates in a vast amorphous underworld known as “illegal Asian betting markets” always have a perhaps understandable shortage of detail, which in turn allows a surfeit of easy stereotypes about inscrutable oriental gangsters arriving at the door kung-fu style to break your thumbs if you’re late coughing up.

But eventually too many provide too much too regularly to ignore the dangers of how sport is so open to carve-ups. The Qatari-based International Centre for Sport Security estimates $5 billion was gambled on the Germany-Argentina World Cup final alone. Only $1.25 million of it they reckon was legal.

These are mind-boggling sums, the sort that makes the few thousand quid it might take to turn a young, greedy and impressionable athlete seem even more piddling. To suggest there isn’t a fundamental danger to sporting integrity when such money is floating around the hazy ethical vacuum between performer and bookmaker is to be wilfully naive. Not everyone has a price, but it’s ludicrous to operate from a basis that everyone doesn’t.

Those embroiled in trying to tease out a workable way for sport and gambling to uneasily coexist point to a current perfect-storm reality where an explosion of online gambling has been infiltrated by organised crime networks operating gleefully underneath a tinted ceiling of, at best, official incomprehension.

Altering that requires a lot, but perhaps most of all, it requires political willingness to take the matter seriously. Unfortunately political will in this country is too often reactive, fire-fighting once the flames have already got a good hold. But in this case, the timing could hardly be better.

Ireland’s new betting legislation is still being worked on. Focus on it to date has centred on entirely predictable debates about tax rates and the nuts and bolts of taxing legal off-shore betting firms. But now is surely the time to put in place procedures which allow Sports Governing Bodies to effectively protect the integrity of the sports they are there to govern.

Comfy consensus

It’s not just in Ireland where a comfy consensus appears to exist in terms of presumption that corruption in sport is a ‘Nimby’ problem; an ‘over there’ issue that doesn’t really impact ‘over here’. And it is true there have been only comparatively minor headlines in Ireland in terms of match-fixing, although it’s worth pointing out that an absence of headlines is hardly an accurate gauge of what might actually be going on.

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