The sports minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, said yesterday that Uefa is "keen" on the formation of an expert panel in Britain to fight betting-related corruption in sport. This came as it was revealed that one bookmaker alone – William Hill – has handled bets on four "suspicious" football matches since 1 May 2008.
Sutcliffe, speaking in a Parliamentary debate about sports betting, confirmed that the panel, first disclosed by The Independent in March, "will include eight to 10 people who will be taken from betting, sport and the police." He added: "I had a meeting with Uefa the other day, which is keen on the panel because it spends a great deal of money on integrity issues in football throughout Europe."
Uefa's president, Michel Platini, said recently that match-fixing is the biggest threat to football's integrity. Uefa has already brought match-fixing charges against a Macedonian club, FK Pobeda, and is investigating more than 20 other cases. Sutcliffe's panel will provide "advice and support" to the gambling industry watchdog, the Gambling Commission, which has been criticised as ineffective and lacking accountability and transparency.
The Commission came under scrutiny again in yesterday's debate. Don Foster, MP for Bath, questioned whether its handling of under-age gambling was appropriate. A recent test demonstrated that 98 of 100 bookmakers accepted bets from an under-age customer, and the GC's sole response to date has been a letter to bookies "basically telling them to get their house in order".
One grey area in protecting sports' integrity is to what extent bookmakers are obliged to cooperate in investigating alleged corruption, particularly in flagging up suspicious activity in the first place. The definition of suspicious has no fixed criteria.
Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, said he had been told by William Hill that four matches among 20,000 had been deemed "suspicious" in the last year, while not a single horse race among 10,000 in the same period had been suspicious. The figures were cited to illustrate the rareness of irregularities but they raise unanswered questions about which matches, and how many others have been reported by other firms, and who is accountable for any investigations.