29.Dec.2017

Betting misconduct in sport – tennis and cricket

The Business of Sport group turn their attention to tennis and cricket in its series of articles focussing on gambling in sport. This follows on from our previous bulletins on betting misconduct in football and snooker and the FA's termination of sponsorship deals with betting companies.

Before delving into the betting rules in tennis and cricket it is worth mentioning the recent decision of the Scottish FA to charge Aberdeen FC non-executive director, Duncan Skinner, with breaching its betting rules. Skinner is alleged to have breached the rule preventing club officials from gambling on football matches. With financial sanctions of up to £1 million as well as suspension of membership available to the Scottish FA the potential consequences for Skinner are severe. Similar to the FA, the Scottish FA has at its disposal the tools to impose tough sanctions and it will be interesting to see if the stance adopted by the Scottish FA is reminiscent of the FA's recent approach to betting misdemeanours. The hearing is to be held on 11 January 2017.

The rules on betting misconduct in tennis are set out in the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program (the "Program") in the ATP Official Rulebook. At its heart the Program seeks to (i) maintain the integrity of tennis, (ii) protect against any efforts to impact improperly the results of any match and (iii) establish a uniform rule and consistent scheme of enforcement and sanctions applicable to all professional tennis events and governing bodies. The Tennis Integrity Unit (the "TIU"), an independent anti-corruption body funded by the ITF, ATP, WTA and the four major tennis championships, is responsible for enforcing the sport's zero-tolerance policy on betting-related corruption.

The anti-corruption rules prohibit players and certain associated persons from betting, either directly or indirectly, on the outcome or any other aspect of any tennis match. The offences are far reaching and cover solicitation, bribery, intentions to negatively influence a player's best efforts, the provision of inside information and non-reporting amongst others. The significant sanctions available to the TIU are similarly broad allowing for fines of up to $250,000 (plus an amount equal to the value of any winnings in connection with an offense) and permanent bans.

However, the implementation of a strict regime has not prevented the TIU's conduct, effectiveness and resourcing from being brought into question amid media allegations (in January 2016) of increased suspicious betting activity in lower level tennis matches. As we have seen in the context of drugs in sport, the perpetrators have consistently shown that they are more sophisticated than the enforcement agencies. The same can be said for betting misconduct. In response, the TIU has teamed up with the betting industry to develop a system of corrupt activity alerts, employed more staff and also invested more in player education. Last year saw nine players and officials convicted and sanctioned, five of those involving lifetime bans, and the 2017 figure is set to build on that. The increase in sanctions at least points towards improved detection methods which are essential if the TIU wants to live up to its zero tolerance policy on betting-related corruption.

Similar to the TIU, the Anti-Corruption Unit ("ACU") in cricket has been set up as the central focal point for all anti-corruption activities in international and domestic cricket. The offences and sanctions generally resemble those in tennis and other sports. The maximum possible sanction for any breach is a life ban and there is even the possibility of criminal sanctions in some countries.

In 2010, three Pakistani cricketers were banned for terms between 5 and 10 years, of which two were found guilty by a London court on criminal charges relating to spot-fixing. The players were caught taking bribes from a bookmaker to deliberately underperform at certain times in a test match.

This, amongst a series of other scandals, prompted the ICC to pave the way for greater coordination of preventative and investigative activity around the world. Accordingly, the ACU now has the power to proactively and thoroughly investigate incidents of corruption in an ongoing effort to protect the integrity of the game.

Sports governing bodies are now acutely aware of the problems posed by corruption and have, on a wide scale, implemented strict anti-corruption regimes. Although solid foundations are in place, in the form of significant investigative and punitive powers, detection of corruption will always prove difficult given the sophistication of offenders. As a consequence, further investment in resources, prevention programmes and education is absolutely necessary to ensure governing bodies stay on top of the corruptive practices that risk damaging the integrity and enjoyment of sport. 

Article contributor: Andrew Nicoll, Solicitor, Shepherd and Wedderburn

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