Authorities Take Punt On Betting Markets To Fight Fixing

by
Reuters
Snooker authorities believe monitoring international betting markets is the most crucial step towards curbing the menace of match-fixing, which rose to prominence recently with the banning of a leading professional.

A game of snooker (or billiards) in progress. The game is being played on a half-size table.

Snooker authorities believe monitoring international betting markets is the most crucial step towards curbing the menace of match-fixing, which rose to prominence recently with the banning of a leading professional.

Former world number five Stephen Lee was handed a 12-year ban last month relating to corruption in seven matches the Briton played in 2008 and 2009, including the UK and world championships. Lee is appealing the sentence.

"The point for me is if you are going to fix a match, normally it's for people to win money by betting," Nigel Mawer, chairman of the disciplinary committee of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), told Reuters.

"So it's crucial that we can monitor betting markets worldwide. It gives us the opportunity to investigate."

Match-fixing has reared its ugly head time and again in more popular sports like soccer and cricket.

The scale of the problem facing the multi-billion dollar soccer industry was exposed in February when European police and prosecutors said hundreds of games may have been rigged by a Singapore-based syndicate.

Previously, three Pakistani cricketers were handed jail terms and bans for a fixing scandal surrounding a test against England at Lord's in 2010.

Former Scotland Yard detective Mawer believes one key approach to solving the issue is to maintain good working relationships with the gambling industry and the gambling commission in the United Kingdom.

"What that does mean is that often I will know if there's a movement in the betting market before a match is even being played," he said in a telephone interview.

"That's very useful because it gives us a chance at early intervention."

As professional snooker aims to gain popularity in new markets, the importance of monitoring betting industries outside Britain and putting in preventive measures has grown.

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To suit those needs, the WPBSA tied up with Qatar-based International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) last week.

"One of the most important thing that's going to come out of the partnership for us is that they will provide us with the ability to monitor betting worldwide which will extend our coverage," Mawer added.

The ICSS, which counts the European Professional Football Leagues and the International Ice Hockey Federation among its clients, has a team of investigators specialising in sports integrity and has sources in sports betting globally.

"As the sport gets more popular, there's more interest, it's more televised, there will be more betting on the sport and the risk will go up," Jake Marsh, an integrity consultant at ICSS, told Reuters.

"The more money gets involved there will be more chances of corruption."

The firm also monitors and collects information on the activities of international criminals who target and commit sport betting corruption or fraud.

Mawer is confident that the preventive measures, besides educating players, will suffice in curbing match-fixing.

His confidence stems from the fact that he has had to investigate only four cases of corruption since starting his role with the WPBSA in 2011.

"The Steven Lee case has sent shockwaves across snooker," he added. "But it helps players who have to make a decision if they have an approach.

"The Lee case will help them make the right decision and say no to an approach and build confidence in the players and I think now they will report if there were any approaches."