A conference entitled "Sports betting - mutual dependence and dangers" was held on Monday 10 November 2008 in Zurich. It was well attended by a number of prominent figures, with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter opening the proceedings with a talk on the subject of "Sports betting - a danger for sport?"
"As far as I'm concerned, betting and games of chance are a double-edged sword," said the FIFA President. "Modern technologies and in particular the opportunities opened up by the internet in terms of sports betting are creating new dangers for our sport. Attempts to manipulate matches are becoming ever more clever and are endangering the integrity of the game."
Various betting scandals linked to football matches and the subsequent concerns over the respectability and integrity of the sport prompted FIFA to take measures aimed at protecting football, which is why the Early Warning System GmbH (EWS) company was founded. It was originally launched as a successful pilot project at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, and since July 2007 EWS has been monitoring all the qualifying matches of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, and will continue to do so right through to the final phase of the tournament itself.
Based on the 2 (e) purpose clause in the organisation's statutes, FIFA intends to protect the integrity of football primarily through early detection. The aim is for betting-related incidents to be identified in a timely fashion, match-fixing to be prevented and the family of football to be made aware of the risks that are caused by betting.
"FIFA cannot prevent abuse due to sports betting," continued Blatter. "By means of the Early Warning System GmbH, however, it can make sure that football loses none of its attractiveness and its integrity, and this is something that we feel is our duty."
Cooperating with bookmakers and betting companies
In order to create an early warning system that is as efficient as humanly possible, cooperation with bookmakers and betting companies plays a crucial role. "We need to protect the integrity of our sport. Football is a victim, and we want to take action against people who abuse the platform that football provides. FIFA is concentrating all its efforts on making sure that the sport is clean and fair, and everyone needs to play their part," said the FIFA President in reference to proposed cooperation with betting organisations.
Norbert Teufelberger, CEO of the private betting company bwin International, confirmed his full support, saying: "We intend to work hand in hand with governing bodies to take action against any form of cheating and fixing in sport. We are working together with FIFA and EWS to keep sport clean."
Risto Nieminen, CEO of the Finnish state lottery and vice-president of the World Lottery Association, also maintained that safeguarding the integrity of the sport was an absolute priority. Carsten Koerl from Sportradar AG referred to the phenomenon of influencing individual players and explained how any attempts at cheating can be identified at an early stage by carrying out analytical monitoring of the betting market, and also how the relevant governing bodies and authorities can be kept informed. He went on to underline the importance of close cooperation with the betting industry in order to combat the global problem of match-fixing as effectively as possible.
"We cannot monitor everything one hundred percent," explained FIFA Executive Committee member Franz Beckenbauer, before going on to explain that the cooperation between EWS and betting companies was "the only effective way" and that "hopefully it will lead to some kind of self-purification process".
If, after careful analysis of a game that has been monitored, EWS comes to the conclusion that there is a genuinely founded suspicion of match-fixing, this is when the "alarm bells" are set off. As FIFA Director of Legal Affairs Marco Villiger pointed out, this enables FIFA amongst other things to impose sanctions in its role as governing body. In addition, criminal procedures can also be imposed by the country in question. "FIFA is fully aware of the dangers, reacts to changes in the betting market and takes the necessary sanctions. It is our contribution to the integrity of football," explained Villiger.
The conference did not concentrate solely on football, though. Other sports whose respectability and integrity are endangered by negative betting influences were examined in detail as well. In this context, EWS also monitored the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing on behalf of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). No anomalies in terms of betting were discovered in any of the 302 events, as Paquerette Girard Zappelli from the IOC Ethics Commission reported. Irregularities in betting on horseracing were also on the conference agenda.
A detailed presentation by EWS CEO Urs Scherrer on the subject of "Prevention and suppression in betting" as well as a talk from an Interpol employee on illegal betting in football rounded off a highly informative day's discussions.