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Match Fixing In Sports Essay Ideas

The most prominent scandal has involved the tennis player Nikolay Davydenko, ranked fourth in the world and seeded fourth in the French Open, which begins Sunday. At a tournament in Sopot, Poland, in August, Mr. Davydenko went from being a heavy favorite against 87th-ranked Martin Vassallo Arguello of Argentina to being a significant underdog during the match.

Mr. Davydenko’s odds got longer, and more money came in for Mr. Vassallo Arguello, even after Mr. Davydenko won the first set. Mr. Davydenko retired because of an injury with Mr. Vassallo Arguello ahead, 2-6, 6-3, 2-1. During the match, Betfair notified the ATP, the men’s professional tennis association, that its security team had recognized irregular betting patterns. After the match, Betfair voided $7 million in bets, the first time in its history that it had taken such a measure. It turned over all of its data to the ATP.

Mr. Davydenko has denied wrongdoing. He has refused a request from ATP investigators for the cellphone records of his wife and his brother.

The incident, along with the fact that at least a dozen ranked players told members of the news media that they had been asked to throw matches or had heard of similar approaches made to other players, prompted the 66-page report, “Environmental Review of Integrity in Professional Tennis.”

Now many in professional tennis are calling for a global anticorruption body for sport, to run along the lines of the World Anti-Doping Agency. The idea has been embraced by most major sports in Europe.

“Insider trading is a bigger deal in sports than in the financial markets,” said Justin Wolfers, a professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, who studies gambling. “We have the Securities and Exchange Commission here. Why not the same for what is a multibillion-dollar sports gambling market?”

From its office above the Thames, Betfair has been the de facto watchdog for sports. Computers glow 24 hours a day, and televisions beam in snooker, basketball, soccer and horse racing, among the sports on which Betfair offers 4,000 kinds of bets a week.

Betfair’s founders, Andrew Black and Edward Wray, whose backgrounds are in the stock market and investment banking, say they have built a better mousetrap. More than a million customers of the Web site, Betfair.com, wager against each other, setting their own odds and paying a fraction of what traditional bookmakers charge.

As Internet gambling has boomed from a $6 billion industry in 2003 to the more than $20 billion expected this year, according to the Maine-based research firm Christiansen Capital Advisors, Betfair’s revenue has grown to $372 million, from $64 million in 2003. Last year, by taking 2 percent to 5 percent commissions on winning bets, Betfair posted profits of $64 million, according to its annual report.

Its founders wanted to transplant the fundamentals of investment banking to sports. Now, Betfair handles 15 million transactions a day, or more than all of the European stock exchanges combined. Sports betting is legal in Britain; 8,000 betting shops are licensed and regulated by the government, as are the Internet gambling sites based here.

Betfair offers betting on major sports based in the United States, like the N.F.L., the N.B.A. and Major League Baseball. But it does not take any wagers from the United States or China, Japan, Hong Kong or India, places where online gambling is illegal. The men’s singles competition at the United States Open was the most popular tennis event on Betfair in 2007, with $307 million bet.

What Betfair brought to gambling was transparency. It has agreements with 32 sports governing bodies and is seeking more, promising to share in real time any unusual betting activity.

“We can tell you every single bet ever placed and who made it, from what funds and where those funds are going,” said Mark Davies, a Betfair managing director and a former bond trader. “It is a complete audit trail, and we want to share it with the governing bodies of sport.”

But many sports governing bodies have refused Betfair’s offer, Mr. Davies said, including the International Olympic Committee. During the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Betfair matched $80 million in wagers on Olympic events. A spokeswoman for the I.O.C., Emmanuelle Moreau, said that the committee had taken proactive measures to address gambling threats. She also said it expected to have a system in place to be alerted to irregular betting before the Beijing Games in August.

“I have been told by one sport that they did not want to sign an agreement because they did not want to know the level of corruption that existed,” Mr. Davies said. “But it exists, and we’re just showing what has always been there.”

Still, others say that Betfair’s “in-running bets,” which may not necessarily affect the final outcome, are ripe for manipulation.

This month, for example, the British Horseracing Authority charged nine people, including a prominent trainer, Paul Blockley, and a jockey, Dean McKeown, with corruption, saying they shared inside information that their horses were not going to run well. The bettors, including five racehorse owners, had put money on horses to lose, which Betfair permits.

“Betting corruption existed before Betfair,” said Paul Scotney, the director of integrity services and licensing for the British Horseracing Authority, which has disciplined more than a dozen jockeys, as well as trainers and owners, with the help of Betfair’s data. “But Betfair offers other, and more, ways of cheating.”

More worrisome for Mr. Forrest, the economist and co-author of a recent study, “Risks to the Integrity of Sport From Betting Corruption,” are sports like tennis, in which a player can deliberately lose the first set against an inferior opponent so that the odds rise, then go on to win.

“It is a greater incentive for an athlete or official to participate in this type of manipulation,” Mr. Forrest said. “It is within their control, and they do not have to lose the match.”

Jenny Williams, the chief executive of the Gambling Commission, which regulates Britain’s gaming industry, said her agency was gathering information about in-running betting and its pitfalls.

“The jury is still out,” Ms. Williams said. “You can produce a theoretical risk, but we need to determine if it is going on.”

How many of the world’s sporting events are fixed? By virtue of the fact that match-fixing is a crime and most gambling is illegal, most economists and sports officials hesitate to guess.

The United States is hardly immune. On May 16, federal prosecutors asserted that the N.B.A. referee Tim Donaghy admitted to betting or providing inside information to gamblers on more than 100 games, many of them that he had officiated. The league said Mr. Donaghy was a rogue referee, but there are enough instances of gambling scandals in the world to suggest that match-fixing is also part of the American landscape.

In 2006, for example, Mr. Wolfers, the Wharton professor, after reviewing 16 years of college basketball results, found that point shaving had occurred in about 1 percent of the games. A Stanford economics student, Jonathan Gibbs, suggested in an undergraduate thesis that similar forces may be at work in the N.B.A.

In fact, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s gambling survey of 21,000 athletes released in 2005 found that 35 percent of male athletes and 10 percent of female athletes said they had bet on college sports in the previous year. Of the 2,132 Division I football players surveyed, 1.1 percent (23) reported accepting money for playing poorly in a game. Of the 388 Division I men’s basketball players surveyed, 0.5 percent (2) reported such conduct.

A total of 2.3 percent of the Division I football players and 2.1 percent of the Division I men’s basketball players surveyed said they had been asked to influence the outcome of a game because of gambling debts, and 1.4 percent of the football players and 1 percent of the basketball players acknowledged actually affecting the outcome.

Mr. Wolfers said there was more to worry about in American sports, on which more money was bet illegally and without regulation. “There is a greater potential for corruption,” he said. “Bad guys are going to get away with more stuff unless we channel it into a legitimate economy.”

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It was not a big surprise.

Before I explain why there were no big surprises, let us step back for a moment, and explain how we got to this situation.

We have all heard the news of the shocking Europol media conference on Monday However, all of this excitement begs a key question - why now? What is going on in international football, indeed many other sports, that means we are suddenly hearing all this talk of fixing?

Europol's investigation

Inquiry started 18 months ago.

Initially involved Germany, Finland and Hungary, before being extended to Slovenia and Austria.

Ended up looking at 680 matches in 30 countries.

13,000 emails were analysed.

A total of 425 suspects were identified.

50 people have been arrested.

80 search warrants obtained.

A number of criminal investigations now taking place.

Fixing and corruption in sport has a long history. If you were to go to the site of the ancient Olympics in Greece you would find, outside the ruins of the stadium, remains of statues to their Gods. The statues were paid for by athletes and coaches who were caught cheating. Sports corruption goes back at least 2,800 years and some type of corruption will be with us for as long we continue to hold competitive sports. It is simply a part of human nature.

However, we of this generation, are facing something almost entirely new. It is a contemporary form of match-fixing - as if someone had taken fixing and injected it with steroids.

It is an utterly modern phenomenon and if we do not fight it properly, it will destroy many sports as we know them. This new form of corruption will, like a tsunami, sweep aside all other issues and leave some sports dead and destroyed.

The key to the new form of fixing is globalisation. In the last ten years, the sports gambling market has - like the music and travel industry - been utterly transformed. Now, gamblers in any part of the world can place a bet on almost any professional sports event in almost any country of the world.

What this means is that the Asian gambling market, which is far, far bigger than the European and North American market, has a huge amount of cash to bet on small matches. Today, at their press conference, Europol said the biggest amount gambled on one of the fixed matches had been £121,000.

This is peanuts. The Asian gambling market is measured in billions of dollars. Fixers working inside the Asian gambling market have destroyed much of the sport on that continent, so now they are turning their attention to other countries.

There are about 20 to 30 fixers who travel the world fixing sporting events. They regard themselves as "brokers" rather than fixers. They form alliances with local criminals, who in turn are able to form connections with corrupt players, referees and team officials.

The Asian criminals deal with fixing the gambling market by placing bets in such a way that no-one suspects the games are fixed. In this way, there is a network of corruption that stretches quite literally around the world.

How 'matches were fixed'

Police say gang members around the world were tasked with maintaining contacts with corrupt players and officials. Laszlo Angeli, a Hungarian prosecutor, gave an example of how it worked: "The Hungarian member, who was immediately below the Singapore head, was in touch with Hungarian referees who could then attempt to swing matches at which they officiated around the world. Accomplices would then place bets on the internet or by phone with bookmakers in Asia, where bets that would be illegal in Europe were accepted."

The fixers have operated in Asia, Africa, Latin America, North America and, particularly, Europe. There is now a line of badly affected leagues that is slowly moving west across Europe. Essentially, they dovetail with the former Soviet Empire, so countries like Bulgaria, Poland or Hungary have all been badly hit. Few football fans in those countries regard their sport with any degree of serious credibility.

However, it is not exclusively an ex-Soviet phenomenon - Turkey, Greece and Italy have also been hit with massive corruption scandals. What the current Europol investigation clearly demonstrates is that the line is moving closer to the UK.

For example, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria and Finland have all had scandals linked to fixed matches. This summer Norway had its first taste of the infamy that the fixers can bring to a league when there were suspicious matches in their third division.

The line taken by many British football fans has always been "only foreigners are corrupt". This is dangerously naive. A non-corrupt league is like the myth of the "unsinkable ship". It does not exist. There will always be, as the ancient Greeks knew, some risk of corruption.

I do not mean that there is rampant fixing in British football. But I do mean that the British leagues have a very small window of opportunity to get themselves ready to fight off this new form of corruption.

Football officials must start to put into place new forms of protection for the game. One defence is a proper and well-resourced anti-addiction program for players and referees. Gambling is part of the culture for many young British players and some of them risk, and lose, a staggering amount of their wages in gambling.

The Football Associations need to establish problem-gambling counselling and a clause in the players' contracts that allows them to seek help for addictive behaviour without it damaging their professional success. They need to back this up with a full-time integrity officer and a well-designed hotline for sports people to be able to anonymously report corrupt approaches.

If the British Football Associations implement these reforms, they stand a good chance of being able to beat back the modern form of fixing. If not, then UK football may be hit with a major scandal on its own shores.

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