‘Sports gambling begets sports corruption’

Chris Eaton, the expert on sports anti-corruption at the International Centre for Sport Security.-

“Football is by far the sport that is most gambled on internationally. It probably accounts for 60 percent of world gambling on sport. Chinese nationals or diaspora are the biggest gamblers on football. The second most gambled on sport is cricket. Indian nationals or diaspora are the biggest gamblers on cricket,” Chris Eaton, an expert in sports anti-corruption, tells Ayon Sengupta.

The recent controversies surrounding the Indian Premier League have led to strong debates in the country, with many clamouring for betting to be legalised. However, Chris Eaton, former head of security with FIFA, and instrumental in cracking the stranglehold of a Singapore-based betting syndicate operating in the world of football, does not believe the solution is that simple. He puts cricket in the No. 2 spot in the money-charts of the USD500 billion betting industry.

Eaton, formerly Manager of Operations with Interpol, is considered a leading expert in sports anti-corruption, and is now director, Sport Integrity at The International Centre for Sport Security in Qatar.

Excerpts:

Question: Can you give us an actual scale of threat of match- and spot-fixing in sport?

Answer: The best way to describe the scale of this menace of sport-results corruption is that it is a worldwide problem appearing across all sports and far too frequently involves transnational organised crime. However, be aware that without sports betting, there would be little or no sport-results corruption, except for a few committed by greedy or unscrupulous players, officials and administrators. But if such cases were the only vulnerability to sport today, they would be eminently manageable.

As most of the massive sports betting is either itself illegal or impenetrable to genuine overseeing, transnational organised crime licks its chops and feeds off the world’s sports gamblers by corrupting sport. Sports gambling begets sports corruption.

Can we quantify this in terms of money?

The exact amount of money transacted around the world of sports betting is unknowable. This is because most sports betting businesses do not declare it. They are located and registered in places where they are just not required to be transparent. It’s obviously a matter of choice for them, and this alone indicates their anti-ethical attitude and intention as businesses. However, reliable estimates based on insider information and investigations are that today and globally, around USD500 billion is gambled on sport each year. It is highly likely to be far larger than this. The vast majority of this amount is transacted in South East Asia.

There are three general types of sports betting organisations. The legally registered and genuinely regulated organisations are in the minority. The illegal and completely unregulated organisations are also in the minority. By far the biggest sports betting organisations are on the surface legal, but they are completely under-regulated and commercially opaque.

What would be the top sports (in betting) in terms of money?

Football is by far the sport that is most gambled on internationally. It probably accounts for 60 percent of world gambling on sport. Chinese nationals or diaspora are the biggest gamblers on football. The second most gambled on sport is cricket. Indian nationals or diaspora are the biggest gamblers on cricket.

Horse racing comes third and is in fact the most regulated and well supervised sport in terms of gambling, because it has learned to live with gambling and cheating from its inception.

During your work with FIFA, what was the most brazen instance of fixing that came to your notice?

The most brazen was the use of a junior team to masquerade and pretend that they were a national team playing another national team in an international friendly match. The fake team from Togo played the correct national team from Bahrain. This was arranged by the notorious match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal (convicted in a Helsinki court alongside nine players from two Finnish clubs and jailed for two years). The act was marked by a complete confidence that they would not be detected, or even if they were detected, that nobody would really care. There are even examples of criminals buying clubs and appointing their own administrators. It is these long term plans to embed corruption at the administrator level which is by far causing the most concern today.

Did you ever find involvements of FIFA officials and other national associations?

I cannot directly refer to investigations I conducted on behalf of FIFA due to confidentiality requirements from them. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of open-source reporting detailing how sport administrators have either been corrupted or tricked by criminals such as Perumal for instance. So in any anti-corruption strategy fighting sport-results corruption, administrative and business transparency of the sport administration is as important as overseeing and protecting players and umpires.

Are you satisfied with the actions taken by the FIFA hierarchy to tackle the problem?

All sport organisations, including FIFA, can do more. The three core components concerned — sport, sport betting and governments — all have to play their part, collectively and in an integrated way, and with the primary strategy of preventing sport-results corruption in the first place, through well thought institutional mechanisms and an active supervision of sport and sport-betting at a global, not merely national or regional, level.

Which sports body has the best measures to curb fixing?

Several sports are leaders. I believe horse racing has the most effective deterrents and institutional response systems, including working relationships with betting organisations. But even for horse racing, the internationalisation of betting has introduced fresh challenges that their national scope alone cannot cope with. The principal weaknesses are that individual sports and individual governments cannot cope with an essentially globally roaming criminality taking advantage of poorly supervised and casually controlled sport competitions and the betting on it.

The response to sport-results corruption must be as big, as global, as internationally organised and as harmonised across sports and nations as the criminal predation itself is.

Will legalising betting in India help it in dealing with fixing?

All countries have a sovereign right to regulate the allowable behaviour of its citizens. But you cannot disconnect any country from either the global matrix of sport or the global matrix of sport-betting. It is vital that all governments, whether they permit gambling on sport in their country or not, gather together to design collective, international solutions that will bind gamblers and betting to transparency and integrity, regardless of whether either activity is permitted in their country or not.

Only a global, co-operative solution involving all stakeholders will work here. India will never, no matter what national solutions it applies, be able to solve this global problem on its own.