Betting on sport and the importance of integrity

sports betting ()

For about three hours last night I thought I was going to be on the Today programme this morning talking about betting in sport. In the end, the story ran and it was disappointing not to have the chance to talk about why betting integrity in sport is so important.

It would have provided the opportunity to highlight some of the work being carried out by national governing bodies (NGBs) and player associations through their membership of the Sports Betting Group (SBG), which we support at the Sport and Recreation Alliance and which I chair.

So, having thought about what I might have said, and debated it with friends who happened to be staying with us last night, I thought I would share my thoughts.

Firstly betting is, whether you think it a good thing or not, a key part of many sports in this country and many members of the public enjoy being able to take part in it. But over time, many NGBs have introduced rules prohibiting betting by those involved in their sport for good reasons.

Ultimately, the outcome of any match must come down to the skill and endeavour of those involved and be seen to be so. Where there is betting by participants, especially on games where they or their team are involved, there is a risk to integrity - both in terms of the potential for manipulation but also for profiting from inside information. Even if there is no attempt to fix the game (or elements within it) or profit from inside information, there is still the risk that the sport is perceived to lack integrity. And now perhaps more than ever, perceptions matter for the broader credibility and viability of the sport in the eyes of fans and sponsors.

Some NGBs have broad bans on betting largely because it is simpler and easier for people to understand that they can’t bet on anything related to the sport they take part in. In other cases, some define what is and is not acceptable within the sport. In all cases what is important is that we don’t try and impose a single system across the board. It is right that NGBs make decisions about what is appropriate for their sport. And where the rules do not prohibit betting on their sport, participants are free to bet on other sports.

Of course, it is one thing to have rules and another to enforce them and doing the latter isn’t easy for NGBs as information on who is betting is held by betting operators. It is therefore critical that operators work with sport where they suspect betting in breach of sports rules is taking place, not least because as part of their licence conditions they are required to have knowledge of the rules relating to individual sports and to share information to assist in enforcement.

In recent years we have seen much better cooperation between NGBs and betting operators. When the Sports Betting Group was first established I am told it would have been unheard of for them to be sitting in the same room working together but now, through the Sports Betting Integrity Forum, this happens regularly.

But as well as enforcement, there is a key role for education and prevention to ensure participants know the rules and understand the risks if they breach them. Many players associations are involved in education and often also offer problem gambling support alongside this to support those who need specialist help.

Over the last couple of years we have seen the membership of the SBG broaden and one of the key aims of the group is to share good practice and provide advice and support to all sports around betting integrity. One thing we do know is that the range of sports on which betting takes place has grown significantly in recent years so it is a topic which every NGB ought to be aware of and considering proactively before it becomes a problem that they are forced to react to.


For those interested, you can find out more information about the Sports Betting Group here.