Sport’s biggest Secret

Online betting, as lucrative and innovative as it is, presents a risk to sport by making betting – and therefore potential corruption – easier than ever before. The European Sports Security Association (ESSA) has been formed to give sport and the betting industry the lines of communication it requires to combat the threat.


It almost goes without saying that rooting out corruption is, increasingly, a major challenge for the global sports industry. As technology increases, so too do the methods of illegal gain; when      ’   around sport the potential for corruption is greater than ever. Though by no means the only channel for corruption, online betting is seen as perhaps the area of highest risk thanks to its multitude of markets, options and exchanges. Crucial to regulating and monitoring a phenomenon that has grown beyond all recognition in a short few years are clear lines of communication between betting operators and rights-holders and federations for the reporting of unusual or irregular            or event. Facilitating that communication in Europe is the ESSA, the European Sports Security Association. Formed in 2005, Khalid Ali is the organisation’s general secretary, responsible for spreading the message of its work and putting in place the mechanisms         “It came about as a result of a match- 2  % ;”    %  ;”7*2    his assured performance as part of a panel discussing the threat betting-related corruption poses to soccer at October’s Leaders in 8 6;   2     # gang. The online industry wasn’t affected by that particular affair but as a result of it they decided to create a security network in the form of ESSA. We’re a single-issue organisation. We’re an early warning system to detect irregular betting patterns and the reason it was created is that if one company or organisation sees bets they don’t really know whether they might be irregular, they need to share that information with other companies –   &     2   you’re going to try and put money on it in as many different places as possible. The idea was to create a security network to try and catch    &   7 The ESSA has grown to include 13 members, with more expected to follow shortly, made up of large online betting      $0 %  Unibet. As Ali explains, however, convincing the operators to join up was the easy bit and       6  know there’s an irregular bet and you know that it’s suspicious, what do you do with that information? You have to pass it on to the relevant sports authorities and organisations so since 2005 that’s why we’ve been signing agreements with a number of organisations including the Tennis Integrity Unit, Fifa, Uefa, the International Olympic Committee etc. We have these relationships in place so          pass on that information to then. That’s the    7 Ali believes, though, that when it does    !   ! 2  regulated licensed operators do already have   ;  64 & created the right structures and infrastructure to deal with these types of situations but of course one of the things we want to see happen is that sports regulators also take on responsibility and deal with these issues in the appropriate ways as well, because a lot Online betting, as lucrative and innovative as it is, presents a risk to sport by making betting – and therefore potential corruption – easier than ever before. The European Sports Security Association (ESSA) has been formed to give sport and the betting industry the lines of communication it requires to combat the threat. SPORT’S BIGGEST SECRET By David Cushnan; Photographs by Graham Fudger. “My experience as an operator was that football was very, very clean.” Khalid Ali, general secretary of the European Sports Security Association, pictured at the Leaders in Football conference at Stamford Bridge on Thursday 7th October 2010 FEATURE | CORRUPTION SportsPro Magazine | 119 of the time when we’re working with sports federations we’ll pass on information and maybe because they don’t have the resources or the time or they don’t want to cause any problems in their sport, they’re not following   &  7 *      6 27 of ESSA’s existence but candidly admits that           to come on board quite simply because, as he puts it, “a lot of sports don’t want to know about gambling and don’t want to acknowledge it as being an issue for them, which is a shame because sport and gambling !2 '(( 7 ; 6)  &    recognise it. Other sports have embraced gambling and you see positive things coming from it. A number of sports are being sponsored by or are getting advertising from gambling companies – they’re signing commercial agreements for streaming so a lot of niche sports like, for example, volleyball or badminton are        of communication for their sport to be advertised and that’s fundamental for them. But at the same time we want to make sure – our operators want to make sure – that when those agreements are in place that the sports federations are doing everything they can to           7 ESSA, as the full name indicates, currently deals with European betting operators. “Our growth plans have been pretty much based on #7*  6  /  we can secure as many members as possible within Europe and then we’ll see about going out further. 120 | “Our objectives are really to build our security network to have more members and to build the number of links we have to sports federations. We have over 20 MoUs in place with sports federations already so we’ve covered the big, big sports – of course there’s other sports we need to get to but it will take time. And of course what we want to do is ensure the punter gets a fair bet as well. That’s a key, crucial objective. It’s a symbiotic relationship. That means if betting-     2   /          betting operators. Yes, 100 per cent the sports federations are going to lose their reputations, but if it’s persistent it kills the betting  Ÿ&       7 Ali believes the formation of an organisation like ESSA was only a matter of time and views it as a sign of the online betting industry’s growing maturity and of its innovative nature. “Online gambling is very,  7   6 &               5       could say they’ve done is create the security network, because they’re visionary in their process – a lot of the things that the online gambling has been doing have been very revolutionary, like live betting, or in-play     & 7 Ali is also quick to point out that the word                to betting, a point he believes needs to be more clearly conveyed to the public and the industry. “We’re trying to be constructive 7    2 6   we want to highlight is that, OK, there is   /    2   &   we created an association like ESSA, but what we cannot do is tar everything with the same brush. Corruption is more than just betting      2      as we’ve seen with ‘Bloodgate’ [the use of /  ;.  to allow a substitution]; it can be spying, as we’ve seen in Formula One; it can be non-       2 / )* and again Formula One. “We have to make a distinction between   !    2 !       2            2  automatically think the betting industry has some role to play in it, and again you have to make a distinction between the regulated, licensed operators and then the unregulated operators. These are important distinctions to make. If you look at Serie A in 2006, AC Milan and Juventus were involved in    2         the betting industry whatsoever. If you look  85'((-    decision, where Nelson Piquet Jr. crashed his car, again that had nothing to do with the betting industry. So we have to be very, very      /7 Whilst pushing for distinctions to be made, however, the ESSA does believe going further than simply monitoring betting is         6  &/  7*2 6  global policeman, which would be a onestop shop not just for betting related match 2        sometimes there’s just too much inherent ’               “We saw this with the Formula One case where if you read the judgement it said that    3 3   driver’s life, but the other drivers and also spectators, but they were [only] given a two-     7 Ali concedes, though, that “there is    7/  independent global body is formed. Indeed his suggestion that “there’ll be a few issues 7    <  Football conference where Ali was speaking. ›    2        as the head of the International Cricket The European Sports Security Association (ESSA) allows its members to determine, “if any fraudulent activity or manipulation is taking place on any     7+      calls its Early Warning System, other betting operators and the relevant sports authority can be informed of potential illegal activity within 60 minutes. Every bookmaker that is a member of ESSA monitors its own data – on average each offers odds on 500,000 bets in a year B ’#))*  in Brussels, provides a simple way of 2      ’   up irregular patterns. According to ESSA the system ‘allows ESSA to work hand in hand with the sports regulators and their disciplinary and legal department, ensuring that when an alert is given the regulator is informed immediately which may prevent the possibility of any game manipulation on a given event.’ FEATURE | CORRUPTION The Early Warning System: how ESSA works “What we want to do is ensure the punter gets a fair bet as well. That’s a key, crucial objective.” SportsPro Magazine | 121 Council’s anti-corruption unit and his current one as joint head of the Tennis Integrity Unit, has a different view. “I’ve worked now in three different sports and the challenges that    7     asked about a single global body overseeing the prevention of corruption across sport. “For example, cricket and tennis, which have been the main concerns for me, have totally different challenges and I don’t think there’s any substitute for having, in each sport, a unit which understands the sport, has got under its skin and is not just investigating allegations but is also proactive in educating players and preventing offences. Sports are so different; how can you have baseball, football, cricket all being managed by one unit? They’d never be    7            penalties must be applied if corruption is proven, despite the possible negative connotations for a sport. “They have to ’       &    !      7    “Any publicity to do with corruption is bad publicity at the end of the day, but sometimes it is necessary to go through the pain to save  !   7 Ali says that the ESSA investigates an average of between 35 and 45 irregular patterns during each football season, with  B6    7  *B   the relevant sports federation having been deemed suspicious. “From the regulated, licensed operators it’s not as big an issue as it’s made out to be. Of course we have the unlicensed markets and we don’t know what’s going on there so there could actually be     2  /   &   7 It is clear that Ali and the ESSA are keen not to be seen to create fear where there is none. That view is reinforced by  55&H       $ 6 / we’ve got to be a little bit careful not to create a scaremongering approach to    75&H  6″ experience as an operator was that football was very, very clean. It was very public and    ’   as opposed to an individual as perhaps in tennis and horse racing. It’s actually a very clean sport. I do agree that it’s important not to be complacent about that, to make sure there’s lots of regulation and sharing of information, which betting exchanges certainly help to do – identifying suspicious patterns of behaviour on websites. I don’t think we should overplay the threat of corruption on soccer, particularly in the UK and particularly in regulated markets, but we can’t be complacent and we’ve got to look at areas where maybe individual players have ’B2 card markets, although those are very small / 7       6 / &   fact that huge amounts of money change hands on betting on football every day. We’ve got problems in tennis, but the sums bet on tennis are dwarfed by those which are bet on soccer. It’s therefore a fact of life that there will be people out there looking to corrupt    Ÿ &   8  ignores that at its peril and what I’m saying is, & 7 And preventing complacency is ultimately the reason for the creation of ESSA. “This was created in 2005 and I think the issue of integrity has snowballed and become a    7*  6 &  hot topic and I think for the licensed betting operators they need to have a one-stop shop where they can share information and that one-stop shop can then feed that information to the relevant bodies. We’ve always said we’re one of the best-kept secrets in sport. We’re in the background. Nobody really knows who we are. We want  /  2 7 “There will be people out there looking to corrupt players and officials; it’s a fact of life.” “Sports are so different; how can you have baseball, football, cricket all being managed by one unit?” asks Jeff Rees, joint head of the Tennis Integrity Unit. “They’d never be able to cope with it.” 118 2011 02 David Cushnan {filedir_26}SportsProMag_issue29_118-121.pdf [8073] [sportspro_february_2011] SportsPro February 2011