With a little over 500 days to go until the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games, match-fixing scandals continue to rock certain segments of world sport. From cricket to sumo, from Europe to Asia, the integrity of sport is gradually being eroded by cheats bent on leeching off the popularity of sport.
As the leader of the global sports movement, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) feels it has a moral and ethical obligation to protect the credibility of sport – both Olympic and non-Olympic – by combatting cheating in all its forms.
Illegal betting has yet to be detected at an Olympic Games, but we are not naïve. We know the day will eventually come. We must be vigilant and ensure measures are in place to limit its effect and discourage any recurrence.
We feel it is time to place the same amount of effort into containing illegal and irregular betting and its corrosive offshoots as we have put into our fight against performance-enhancing drugs.
As our latest step, we have set up today the first ever meeting between the sports movement, governments, public international organisations and sports betting operators to discuss ways to battle irregular and illegal sports betting. We are encouraged by the massive response and support we have received from the invitees, which include members of Interpol, the United Nations and governments as far away as Australia and China.
Great Britain will be well represented at the meeting, with the Minister for Sport, Hugh Robertson, the Gambling Commission's director of regulation, Nick Tofiluk, and others prepared to share their knowledge of the betting market and the laws regulating it in the United Kingdom. We are looking forward to constructive discussions that we hope will eventually lead to the definition and coordination of actions against irregular and illegal betting.
The potential for corruption is at an all-time high due in part to the advent of betting on the internet and the anonymity, liquidity and sheer volume it encompasses. It can be argued that there are more temptations and pressure on athletes, coaches, officials and others to cheat for betting gains than at any other time in the past. What's worse, this cancer continues to go largely unregulated in many parts of the world.
Illegal or irregular betting – which should not be confused with legal and regular betting offered by national lotteries and private entities, which is a major source of financing for sport – is potentially crippling. Each instance that comes to light undermines confidence in sport, which can lead to spectator apathy and drops in attendance, TV viewership and sponsorship. At its worst, it can deter people from participating in sport in the first place.
The IOC started tackling this issue in earnest in 2005. Our first task was to lead by example and to adapt our own rules in the face of this new threat, and also to raise awareness of the issue through measures such as educational programmes, seminars, and the drafting and adoption of a list of recommendations aimed at unifying the approach of the entire sports movement. We have been proactive in our message and continue to push for dialogue with all parties wherever and whenever possible.
We are currently in the process of encouraging all our partners in the Olympic movement to adopt rules that forbid betting on each sport. We initially called on the sports that had dealt with cases of match-fixing to join us in taking a unified approach to the problem. Cricket, tennis and football have all done an admirable job in this department, but there remain many international sports federations and national Olympic committees that have no legislation in place to combat irregular and illegal betting. Without it, there are no grounds on which to punish the cheats.
The support of governments is also paramount. They are the ones with the authority to create a legal framework in which legal and regular betting can take place. They, and not the sports world, can also conduct investigative searches and initiate criminal proceedings. As it becomes increasingly obvious that large criminal networks are benefiting from illegal betting, we encourage governments, wherever possible, to put in place specific criminal legislation dealing with match-fixing and cheating in sport.
A serious, concerted effort by all parties is needed to combat the problem, which is becoming increasingly difficult to detect as the cheaters are trending away from manipulating major sporting events or even the outcomes of matches. It is too risky. Instead, they focus on matches with less media attention and public scrutiny. You can have all sorts of issues in sport that happen regularly in the field of play without any suspicion and that is the great danger.
We still have a long way to go, but I am confident we are headed in the right direction. I envision that, in the next few years, we may even have a global watchdog in place, similar in structure to the World Anti-Doping Agency, and that fighting illegal betting and match-fixing will be obligatory for the international sports federations if they wish to remain part of the Olympic movement.
We applaud all the work to date undertaken by the Government, Gambling Commission, sports organisations and others in the United Kingdom. Your fight, like ours, has just begun. It is now up to all of us to join together in properly combating this scourge.
Jacques Rogge is the President of the IOC