Heading for a fall: a sport tainted by hints of corruption

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The scandal that is tearing up the turf in the world of horse racing has an ominously familiar feel. Two years ago an undercover investigation by the BBC's
Panorama blew the sport wide open. In response to the accusations of race fixing, the Jockey Club sacked its head of security and set up an integrity review. But the events of recent days suggest that these measures have done little to improve things.

The scandal that is tearing up the turf in the world of horse racing has an ominously familiar feel. Two years ago an undercover investigation by the BBC's Panorama blew the sport wide open. In response to the accusations of race fixing, the Jockey Club sacked its head of security and set up an integrity review. But the events of recent days suggest that these measures have done little to improve things.

At Lingfield last week the jockey Kieren Fallon managed to come second in a race despite leading by 10 lengths at one point. Allegations in a Sunday newspaper added to the impression of skullduggery. On Monday another jockey, Sean Fox, appeared simply to jump off his horse during a race in Sussex. It then emerged that a small number of online gamblers had made substantial profits by betting on Fox to lose. The puny response of the Jockey Club so far has been to impose a 21-day ban on the two jockeys while it investigates further.

Bizarre as these two incidents are, it is difficult to prove corruption. It would have to be demonstrated that the two jockeys deliberately lost the races, and for financial gain. How- ever, these latest scandals can only be understood in light of the revolution that has swept betting in the past five years. Online betting exchanges have been a boon to punters because they cut out bookmakers. They ought to be welcomed as instruments that empower the consumer. The downside is that punters can now bet on losers as well as winners - the change that has opened the door to the current round of accusations.

Part of the solution must be closer links between betting exchanges and the Jockey Club. This would allow the regulator to monitor betting when a horse stops in suspicious circumstances. In fairness to the Jockey Club, it has made progress and the present investigation into Fallon came after it was alerted to unusual betting patterns.

But an industry that accepts £8bn in punters' money each year must banish even the whiff of corruption if it is to retain the confidence of its customers. Severe penalties must be imposed on anyone proved to have fixed a race or engaged in any sort of malpractice. In short, it is time to clear out the stables.

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