Putting integrity into action

During, what has been a bad week for sporting integrity, Leigh Thompson, Policy Adviser, takes a closer look at The Sport and Sports Betting Integrity Action Plan.

Reading the press over the last few weeks you’d be hard pressed not to come to the conclusion that the integrity of sport is a concept that has had its day. From FIFA corruption to the Chris Cairns perjury trial, it seems sport is synonymous with scandal. Unsurprisingly, this constant barrage of negative headlines has led many commentators to question the ability of sport to regulate itself and whether greater government intervention to protect against corruption might be required.

Precisely where the responsibility for regulation should lie between sport and government is a question that has taxed some of the finest minds but an important recent development in the field of sports betting could, I think, provide at least part of an answer: The Sport and Sports Betting Integrity Action Plan (for brevity ‘the SBI Action Plan’).

What is the Plan and how has it come about?

The SBI Action Plan sets out how the various different public and private groups or organisations with an interest in the integrity of sport and sports betting – ranging from sports bodies and gambling regulators through to betting operators and law enforcement – will work together to tackle corruption. This collection of public and private stakeholders has been formalised in the shape of the Sports Betting Integrity Forum which is responsible for delivering the Plan.

The SBI Action Plan has its roots in the UK Anti-Corruption Plan, launched last year, which sets out a cross-government approach to tackling corruption and includes a number of actions aimed specifically at corruption in sport. In this context, it sits within a wider Government anti-corruption framework which ensures coherence and provides important political accountability.

What does the Plan involve?

The SBI Action Plan sets out the existing sports betting integrity landscape and the roles and responsibilities of the key stakeholders, notably sports governing bodies and player associations, the Gambling Commission, betting operators, law enforcement and Government.

Under the Plan, each stakeholder group is expected to undertake activity in its respective field designed to prevent, detect and deter sports betting corruption. For sports governing bodies and player associations this includes inter alia:

• Developing and delivering effective education programmes for athletes, coaches, officials and others to raise awareness and knowledge of the risks around betting corruption;
• Ensuring that codes of conduct, betting rules and contractual provisions establish clear frameworks to enable sanctions to be applied;
• Establishing internal policies and capabilities to enable a rapid and effective response to sports betting corruption issues and;
• Putting in place processes to gather and share information for the purposes of investigation.

All of these activities are included in some shape or form in the Sports Betting Group Code of Practice and are considered good practice by leading governing bodies and player associations.

Importantly, the Plan establishes ten specific actions for SBIF or one of its constituent groups to take forward. Three of the actions – in relation to education, good practice and collaboration with other sports bodies – fall to the Sports Betting Group and work is underway to address these.

What is the significance of the Plan?

Overall, the publication of the SBI Action Plan represents a significant step in tackling sports betting corruption in the UK for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the fact that multiple public and private stakeholders are signed up to the Plan is a recognition that no single entity owns the problem of – or indeed has all the solutions to – sports betting corruption. In a world of increasingly constrained resources, a joined-up, coordinated approach is the only viable way forward.

Secondly, the Plan is an acknowledgement by all parties with an interest in sport and sports betting that they have a stake in protecting integrity and, with that stake, comes responsibility. Put simply, the success or otherwise of the Plan relies on each constituent group playing a full part and taking responsibility for those areas over which they have control. This reflects the important and welcome development of a much more mature and open relationship between sport, betting operators and regulators on integrity matters.

Thirdly, the Plan is a formal public document. It is therefore a means of holding all stakeholders to account and ensuring they deliver on the actions they have committed to take.

Fourthly, as its title indicates, the Plan embodies the fact that sports betting corruption impacts not just on sport (through the manipulation of sporting competitions i.e. match-fixing) but also on legitimate betting companies and their law-abiding customers (through the manipulation of betting markets and the placing of fraudulent bets). Similarly, the Plan is also a recognition that sports betting corruption presents significant reputational risks: to individual athletes who may be tainted by association and also to the UK more widely as a place to do business and as the host of major sporting events of global significance.

Fifthly, the Plan can be seen as a contribution to the wider debate about the need for legal, regulated sports betting markets to help protect integrity. A significant proportion of sports betting corruption continues to occur in illegal and unregulated markets – very much out of sight and often beyond the reach of the law. In this context the SBI Action Plan is a demonstration that the UK approach, based on legalised markets and licensed operators working in partnership with regulators and sport, can provide a useful model for other countries to follow.

Ultimately, as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the effectiveness of the Plan will be down to the actions taken by individual stakeholders. But I remain quietly confident that the collaborative nature of the Plan is an important part of the answer to the question of who is best placed to protect the integrity of sport.

Read more from Leigh