News 18th February 2016

Tennis leads ESSA suspicious betting alerts for 2015

Seventy three of the 100 suspicious events reported to sporting bodies during 2015 by integrity body ESSA involved tennis, figures published today revealed. Tennis was far ahead of football, which at 19 suspicious events, recorded the second highest number of incidents reported to sporting authorities by ESSA in 2015. This year, it has been alleged that tennis authorities have been ‘repeatedly warned‘ about a core group of 16 players involved in match-fixing; that match-fixing has been systemic in tennis for a decade; and that tennis authorities sought to cover up sanctions issued to umpires for involvement with match-fixing.

‘ESSA is one of the organisations that has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Tennis Integrity Unit’, read a response emailed by the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU). ‘All information supplied by betting operators is analysed by the TIU. This analysis includes many other factors that can influence results, including player fitness, fatigue, form, playing conditions and personal circumstances. If the analysis suggests suspicious activity, the TIU moves to investigation which includes interviewing players, taking phones and laptops. An alert can be an indicator of suspicious activity. But it is not proof or evidence that corruption has taken place. On its own, betting data is not sufficient to bring forward a successful prosecution; it has to be considered, assessed and verified along with the TIU’s many other sources of intelligence. Statistics of the kind released today by ESSA must be considered in that light.’

ESSA was established by regulated and licensed bookmakers to monitor for suspicious betting patterns. Its 18 bookmaker members attempt to identify and report ‘potentially fixed’ sporting events to the authorities. It argues that these affect its members’ odds calculations and therefore their profits, as well as presenting a danger to the integrity of sport. An ESSA spokesperson said that such events “adversely impact betting operators businesses and their consumers by seeking to unfairly manipulate sport to then financially defraud betting operators, whose markets are based on a detailed risk analysis of certain events taking place in a fair and competitive manner”.

‘A betting pattern is deemed unusual or suspicious when it involves unexpected activity with atypical bet sizes or volumes that continue even after significant price corrections have been made in order to deter such activity in the market’, read ESSA’s description of what constitutes a suspicious alert. ‘A betting pattern is only confirmed as suspicious after ESSA has made detailed enquiries with all of its members to eliminate any prospect that the unusual patterns could be for legitimate reasons, such as pricing the market incorrectly’.

ESSA maintains that it is the illegal gambling market that presents the biggest risk regarding match-fixing, rather than certain types of bets. It argues that there is no link between in-play betting and match-fixing, referencing a January 2015 report by the ASSER Institute and Sportradar. ‘[Match fixing] is largely recognised as being primarily being a product of the unregulated betting sector, criminals and corrupt sportspeople/administrators’, writes ESSA Chairman Mike O’Kane in the Quarter 4 report. ‘The latter continues to be a major obstacle to the implementation of effective detection and deterrent mechanisms. Poor sports governance is increasingly being identified as a key facilitator of various forms of corruption, underlined by a number of high-level scandals during 2015, notably involving football and athletics. Effective governance practices are an important barometer of a sport’s overall level of integrity.’

Earlier this week, the Daily Telegraph uncovered how FIFA had found that Robin Boksic, who was hired by both FIFA and UEFA to investigate corruption, had links to match-fixers including Ante Sapina. Sapina, who is also Croatian, was recently implicated in match-fixing uncovered in the Canadian Soccer League (CSL), having been jailed by a German court in May 2011 for his part in fixing 47 CSL games.

The tennis authorities have announced that they will undertake an independent review of how the TIU can be more transparent without compromising integrity, led by Adam Lewis QC. However, Lewis has acted for the tennis authorities in the past, as illustrated by his biography, leading some to question the true independence of the review. Combined with the revelations highlighted above, the ESSA figures will fuel the argument that independent oversight is needed, as tennis doesn’t have the ability to both promote the sport and protect itself against corruption.

“The threat of betting related corruption in sport, whilst involving a relatively small number of events, is a real and present issue”, said ESSA Secretary General, Khalid Ali. “The primary focus of that activity is to manipulate sport to defraud betting operators. ESSA and its members continue to remain vigilant in light of that threat and work with sports to identify and punish those responsible. Ultimately, we need a range of solutions involving all stakeholders, but in particular we need to see more focus on the impact of good governance in sport and the enforcement of robust rules and sanctions. We have seen time and time again that effective governance practices are an important barometer of a sport’s level of integrity. I would urge all sports and governments to take a close look at the UK Sports Betting Integrity Action Plan as an example of best practice measures in this area.”

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