Secret FA study into 30 'illegal' gambling cases

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The Independent Football

The Football Association has conducted 30 investigations, most of them secret, into suspected cases of illegal gambling by players and officials involved in English football in the past 14 years, with eight of the investigations leading to formal disciplinary proceedings.

The information was provided by leading anti-corruption officials from the FA to a parliamentary inquiry into sports-related betting and has been revealed in transcripts of the inquiry's hearings.

The same inquiry heard evidence from Tom Kelly, chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers, which represents British betting companies, who spoke about an investigation into an unidentified case of alleged match-fixing, believed to be in Scotland.

The FA's evidence to the parliamentary inquiry placed on record for the first time the precise number of investigations into illegal gambling by participants in English football. Participants are defined as club directors and officials as well as players. Jonathan Hall, the FA's director of governance, Steve Barrow, the FA's head of regulation, and Alistair McLean, the FA's head of legal and business affairs, all gave evidence.

"In our case, probably going back over the last 14 years or so, we have had a total of 29 or 30 investigations of which eight have led to disciplinary proceedings being instituted against participants," Barrow told the inquiry. He was asked: "Do you mean participants?" He replied: "That is correct."

The FA is routinely secretive about such matters for obvious reasons, not least confidentiality issues. An FA source said that the eight cases that have been prosecuted by the FA all involved "low level" transgressions of the rules.

One of these "low level" offences saw Gillingham's chairman, Paul Scally, being charged for backing his own team to lose against Manchester City in the 1998-99 play-off finals. They lost. Another saw Steve Claridge charged and fined for betting on his team, Portsmouth, to win a game against Barnsley, which they did. Both cases were heard in 2000, when the FA had a blanket ban on betting by players or officials. The governing body subsequently, inexplicably, slackened its rules to prohibit betting only on games in which the gambling players or officials were involved.

Other offences alluded to by Barrow have remained unpublicised, but while the FA does not feel English football has any current serious problem with illegal gambling, it acknowledges the potential threat. "While the FA does not believe that English football faces a major problem with betting-derived abuses, there have been isolated incidents of concern, and the recent reports from Germany show we cannot afford to be complacent," the FA said in a statement.

The FA welcomed this week's finding of the parliamentary inquiry, conducted by the all-party Betting and Gaming Group, and also urged the government "to appoint a commissioner with expertise on sporting matters to the Gambling Commission to advise on issues such as these". Kelly, who told The Independent yesterday that he was "surprised" his evidence had been published, told the inquiry in November that "significant" money was wagered on a team to win a match, "and to be in front at half-time, much larger sums than one would normally associate with that category of football match or with that type of betting".

Kelly declined to provide details of the fixture at the inquiry, or yesterday, but the game he described is believed to have involved Ayr versus Raith Rovers in the Scottish First Division on the final day of last season. Ayr led 1-0 at half-time and the game finished 1-0. Bets of £250,000 were reportedly wagered on that outcome. The Scottish Football League confirmed yesterday that it concluded an investigation into that game (played in May 2004) last October. "We'd heard someone had perhaps infringed the rules but a painstaking investigation found they had not," a spokesman said.

Kelly said in November that the inquiry into the match he was talking about was still ongoing, although it seems he may not have been aware the SFL investigation had already concluded at the time.

The SFL said no subsequent matches had been investigated over match-fixing allegations, while the English FA said there are no current investigations into match-fixing in England.