“Spot-fixing puts the spot-light on Sporting Integrity”

The Pakistani spot-fixing allegations in the Lord’s Test against England last year put the spot-light on the wider issue of preserving the integrity of sport.

The News of the World’s expose of the 3 Pakistan cricketers, Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir allegedly accepting £150,000 in cash and agreeing to bowl “no-balls”, sent tremors not only in cricket, but across other sports, where betting is threatening the fabric of sport.

The decision of the three-man independent tribunal chaired by Michael Beloff QC has deferred judgment until 5 February 2011, following six days and 45 hours of testimony. The panel’s verdict will have wide reaching consequences beyond determining the careers of the 3 participants involved, who could potentially face bans from between 5 years and life arising from any guilty verdict. The judgment will also impact the reputation of Pakistan cricket and will test the anti-corruption code of the International Cricket Council (‘the ICC’).

The increasing number of high profile cases of alleged corruption in sport, including cricket, snooker, football and tennis that were reported last year prompted specialist sports and media practice, FrontRow Legal to hold a seminar on the subject on 10 December 2010 at Elland Road. Rick Parry, former chief executive of Liverpool FC and former head of the FA Premier League, was the main guest speaker who discussed how betting in sport has become not just a moral debate, but an item on the political agenda, having Chaired the Government appointed Sports Betting Integrity Panel.

Parry described how one of the key challenges of the last decade for sport has been the explosion in new opportunities to bet driven by technology. With betting in real time and cross international boundaries, punters can now bet on just about every imaginable event. The panel’s report (‘the Report’) to the Government called for a new Code of Conduct on integrity in sports in relation to sports betting that includes minimum standards which all sports shall observe and cover in their rules on betting. The panel attached particular importance to sports providing regular education and communication programmes on sports betting integrity to all competitors and participants.

One of the greatest obstacles facing the sports industry is the enormity of organised crime which operates on a global scale where perpetrators target participants in sport. Ian Smith, Legal Director of the Professional Cricketing Association (‘PCA’) discussed this at FrontRow Legal’s seminar with reference to the Pakistan spot-fixing allegations, describing how in India, participants in cricket are marked out and groomed to cheat from a young age. Whilst the Report recommended establishing a Sports Betting Intelligence Unit, to be housed at the Gambling Commission, which would have mechanisms for recognising and capturing intelligence, such a unit would be of limited power given the jurisdiction issues from unregulated betting organisation abroad.

What has come out of the recent allegations of match-fixing in various sports is not just the problem of betting, but broader integrity issues. Many of Parry’s panel felt frustrated by the narrow remit of the Report calling for the spotlight to be put on preserving the integrity of sport. Ultimately fairness in sport must be upheld so that success is achieved on a level playing field and the worthy participants win.

FrontRow Legal will be following and commenting on the tribunal’s verdict in relation to the Pakistan spot-fixing allegations on 5 February 2011.

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