Sports Politics: Government report urges swift action to tackle match-fixing

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The Independent Online

Britain needs a multi-sport anti-corruption unit with wide-ranging powers to tackle the threat of betting-related malpractice, according to a substantial government-commissioned report, published yesterday.

The Sports Betting Intelligence Unit, which will be based at the Gambling Commission if it comes to fruition, has been proposed by Rick Parry, the former chief executive of Liverpool, and a panel of sports betting integrity experts, who were commissioned last summer by the sports minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, to look at the issue.

British sport is no more susceptible to match-fixing than any other country but the Commission has considered more than 50 cases from horse racing, football, snooker and other sports in the past two years, and fresh incidents continue to arise.

The Independent can reveal that several sporting cases of suspected criminal activity, including in football, have effectively been ignored because there are no clear guidelines, at present, over who should handle them. The report hints at this by saying: "Experience in GB has shown that police do not generally regard the investigation of 'sporting crime' as a priority."

In some cases, a governing body has passed responsibility to the Commission, which has then asked for police help only to be told it is not in the public interest to pursue betting allegations when resources are needed elsewhere. Parry's recommendations set out, in considerable detail, how a coordinated strategy would tackle betting corruption most effectively.

The most recent high-profile betting case in English football concluded last year when five players linked to Accrington were banned and fined for betting on Accrington to lose a match in 2008. Several other cases are being probed by the FA. A snooker case has recently been dealt with by Strathclyde police, who have passed on a file to prosecutors for consideration.

Governing bodies will be required to improve education programmes to warn players against illicit gambling. Major governing bodies were asked what measures they have in place and the report found that "a very limited number of those surveyed provided what could be considered a comprehensive education programme around betting." The report also recommends that a "dedicated whistle­blowing line" should be established, and it was acknowledged that "some sportspeople have identified themselves as having problems with gambling" and need appropriate "advice and counselling" to cut the risks of further problems.

The report's other key proposals include: a new code of conduct for all sports governing bodies; that every sport has as intelligence-gathering system and reports regularly to the SBIU; a review of the Commission's investigative powers to ensure they are sufficient to best tackle corruption in sports betting; and a review of the two-year maximum prison sentence for cheating at betting, which as constituted may not be effective.

Parry told The Independent last night that the government "absolutely" needs to adopt all the report's proposals. "It's a complete package," he added. "We have to take the toughest possible approach if we want to stamp out cheating – and that's why it's so important that the recommendations are taken on board and followed."

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