Sports betting under the microscope

The final day of the Sports Funding, Sponsoring, and Sports Betting Congress, organised by FIFA’s subsidiary company Early Warning System GmbH, proved to be just as productive as day one. The experts gathered at the Home of FIFA in Zurich had the opportunity to debate the structure and organisation of the world betting market, the legal framework governing the industry and the possible ways in which the current situation can be improved upon.

Discussions also centred on the thorny issues posed by sports betting, with several speakers also drawing attention to the difficulties faced by major international bodies such as FIFA in protecting sport.

The day began with participants being reminded of the sheer size of today’s sports betting market. While the sports industry itself generates around $300 billion a year, sports betting has an estimated annual worth of between $350 and 400 billion. With 50% of bets placed on the grey and black markets, official figures are impossible to come by.

“The market is enormous, and wherever there is money there are always likely to be some unscrupulous people around,” said Christian Werner of the University of Applied Management, Erding (Germany). “Sports betting combines a passion for and a love of gambling with the prospect of financial gain, and betting is part of human nature. People will always want to bet.”

“Nobody has anything against gambling,” commented Marco Villiger, FIFA Director of Legal Affairs. “Our goal is to protect the integrity of sport and to fight against practices that undermine it. Fraud and match fixing are threats to the core values of sport.”

FIFA founded EWS in 2004 with a view to monitoring the market closely and detecting any irregular betting activities. And for the last seven years it has been keeping a very close eye on the industry. EWS spokesperson Thomas Sporing listed all the different types of betting identified to date, pointing out that live betting now accounts for nearly half of all transactions. Due to the speed with which these live transactions are carried out, monitoring becomes even more problematic.

Thanks to the system it operates, EWS can monitor bets, odds and payouts for FIFA and other organisations. “Whenever we see something strange happening we notify the relevant associations and legal bodies, who can then take the necessary measures,” explained Detlev Zenglein, the head of EWS’ betting analysis system. Before any penalties can be imposed, however, injured parties need to have access to the right resources.

FIFA’s Disciplinary Code and Code of Ethics set out a number of statutory obligations that players, referees and officials are expected to fulfil, along with all the other regulations laid down by world football’s governing body.

“Everyone has to contribute if we’re going to safeguard the integrity of sport,” said Villiger. “In that regard we welcome the initiative of the IOC, which has brought together representatives from national governments and associations and stakeholders in the sports betting market to form a working group whose brief is to find solutions that can lead to the implementation of more effective measures.”

The situation is particularly delicate in Europe, where the European Union has yet to introduce any specific legislation on the issue of sports betting. “There are no valid regulations applicable across Europe as a whole,” observed Remus Muresan, an expert on European law. “Member states are free to deal with the issue through their national legal systems. They are free to a great extent to regulate the betting market themselves, and to place restrictions on it if they are able to.”

With Europe-wide harmonisation still some time away, in Zenglein’s opinion the most effective option involves bringing national associations and betting industry stakeholders together to monitor the market on a joint basis.

Given the ongoing complexity of the situation, a great deal of time and effort needs to be invested in order to eradicate the problem of illegal betting and match-fixing. In organising this congress, however, FIFA has made a valuable contribution to alerting sports stakeholders to the danger posed by illegal betting.

“It’s going to be a tough fight but I am convinced that football can overcome this challenge,” concluded FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.