1on1 - Bill South on the battle against match fixing

1on1 - Bill South on the battle against match fixing

Wednesday, September 14, 2016
The challenges of dealing with multiple stakeholders

Bill South, director of security at William Hill plc, talks about the work that the betting industry integrity body ESSA has been doing with sports to improve integrity.

Totally Gaming: ESSA has developed an early warning system for match corruption. How does this detection system work for non-football related sports?

Bill South: In general, the ESSA alert system operates the same way for all sports. ESSA’s regulated betting operators invest considerable amounts on internal security systems to protect their businesses and consumers from fraud; we estimate that to be in the region of €50m per annum. The ESSA alert process interacts with that system to create a wider and more data heavy network across its whole membership. 

That includes important customer transactional data which other systems do not have access to and which is vital in helping to weed out what we call “false positives”, that is where there is suspicious activity but which after detailed analysis of the data can be discounted as not being of an illicit nature.

It is only with that detailed transactional data that such decisions can be made with a high degree of probability. Otherwise, as I say, it can lead to false alerts being raised and of course wasted time investigating. That said, we do tend to err on the side of caution when referring alerts to sports bodies and regulatory authorities. 

We also publish data every quarter detailing the sports where alerts have been raised and passed on, along with other useful information such as the geographical locations of the sporting events in question. ESSA believes that it is important that more data is put into the public domain to help inform the debate in this area, as long as it doesn’t impede ongoing investigations. We want evidence-based policymaking, and that requires data. Unfortunately, outside of ESSA, only the British Gambling Commission and, more recently, the Tennis Integrity Unit share such alert information.

TG: How does your team handle integrity concerns in a complex framework which involves multiple stakeholders (operators, regulators, government, sporting bodies). How can effective decisions be made under these conditions?

BS: It is true that this process can involve multiple stakeholders and that brings with it certain challenges. From a day-to-day perspective, our primary interaction is with sports bodies and regulators and we have information sharing agreements with many major players such as the IOC, FIFA, TIU, British Gambling Commission and ARJEL to help that process run smoothly.

ESSA and its members have been handling this type of data for some considerable time and are well versed in identifying potential corruption and producing detailed reports. Once we’ve passed the relevant data on it’s down to the sports, regulators and law enforcement bodies to do their job.

Unfortunately, that is where we tend to encounter issues. Whilst snooker, for example, has to date shown a desire to conduct investigations swiftly and to be transparent in its decision making, there continues to be very little feedback or transparency from many others within the sporting sector on what has been done (if anything) with that betting data, or how investigations are conducted.        

This is an issue that we have been highlighting with policymakers for some time now and we hope that instruments such as the Council of Europe’s convention, and the promotion of national platforms like the Gambling Commission’s integrity unit and the sharing of information between stakeholders, will help to progress this matter. Fundamentally, we need a more coordinated and partnership orientated model adopted by all stakeholders, and one which operates internationally.

TG: At present, European sports betting policy is quite fragmented due to state by state regulation of betting services. How has this impacted creating effective integrity initiatives?

BS: There are some very good national level integrity platforms, the UK approach being the most prominent, but clearly there is a long way to go in terms of seeing such specific and detailed integrity processes adopted not just across Europe, but globally. The Council of Europe’s convention is trying to fill that void and, having helped to develop that document, ESSA promotes its adoption.

Other major players in this area such as the IOC and the European Commission are also promoting coordinated action on integrity and the adoption of the convention. However, the reality is that we are sometime away from the convention having any meaningful impact; whilst 27 states have signed the convention since it was agreed in 2014, so far only 2 states have ratified it and it needs at least 5 to come into force.

Until that happens and until more countries follow the UK and others in establishing practical and proportionate betting policies with dedicated integrity frameworks that involve all stakeholders, including betting operators both nationally and internationally, there will continue to be a patchwork and fragmented approach. That doesn’t mean that every state must have the same framework, but there needs to be a general commitment and move to adopt and implement certain processes, such as information sharing, thorough investigations and imposing robust sanctions.  

This situation isn’t helped by the continual revelations of high-level corruption within the sports sector. It is now widely accepted by policymakers around the world that poor sports governance is the biggest risk to the integrity of sport, and therefore by association to sports betting markets. The importance of addressing that and its impact on issues such as match-fixing was highlighted during the UK-hosted international Anti-Corruption Summit earlier this year. Whether anything meaningful will come of that or the Council of Europe convention, only time will tell.

TG: How does ESSA work with smaller sporting bodies, that may not have the appropriate resources or infrastructure to tackle match-fixing and corruption?

BS: We give the same level of commitment and cooperation to all sports regardless of size. There is, however, a limit to what we can do. Once we have identified potential corruption and passed on the relevant information it is down to the sport, and where appropriate regulatory authority and law enforcement bodies, to investigate this issue. It isn’t within ESSA’s scope or remit to conduct that investigation on behalf of a sporting body or regulator.

What ESSA does do, however, is invest in mitigating actions such as a player betting education programme managed by EU Athletes which operates across a range of sports, including smaller ones such as water polo, volleyball, handball and Gaelic sports. That project was established in 2010 and its value and success can be judged by the fact that it has so far received two sets of co-funding from the European Commission. Given that match-fixing is perpetrated by sports own personnel often colluding with criminals seeking to defraud betting operators, this is a way our sector can have a direct impact on deterring such action.

In addition, in well-regulated gambling environments that specifically cater for this issue, such as the legislation underpinning the British Gambling Commission’s integrity unit, which is funded by betting operators’ licensing fees, there exists a statutorily established body to assist all sporting bodies in this area. As already highlighted above, the Council of Europe convention promotes the establishment of similar national level platforms to assist sporting bodies. Major international sports organisations such as the IOC have also been promoting mitigating actions with sports of all size.

The reality is that all sports should be very aware of the risks; this issue has been part of the general sports debate for some time now. As such, there has to be an expectation that all sporting bodies have suitable procedures in place in the same was they would for doping or any other form of corruption. The Council of Europe’s convention article proposing that governments “withhold some or all financial or other sport-related support from any sports organisations that do not effectively apply regulations” for combating fixing reflects that general expectation.

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