—– Pierre Cornu, former UEFA chief legal counsel for integrity and regulatory affairs, fears the threat posed to football by the internet-fired explosion of Asian betting syndicates.

Cornu, now with the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES) believes the betting industry boom is increasing the danger of criminal pressure on athletes.

Pierre Cornu: specialist in sport and the law / CIES

He told AIPS Young Reporters* in Tel-Aviv that the manipulation of sport was nothing new: boxing had been ‘fixed’ at the ancient Olympic Games all the way back in 338BC.

However the problem has been exacerbated in recent years by the aggressive and worldwide match-manipulation strategy adopted by criminals serving the criminal interests in the betting industry.

As an illustration of the financial breadth of the industry, Cornu said that more than €1bn had been bet, in Asia alone, on the 2011 UEFA Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United.

One Asian bookmaker had taken €38m in bets ahead of and during Chelsea’s 4-4 draw with in the 2009 Champions League.

However, these were official, legally-accounted figures.

Cornu indicated around 35pc of the global market operated beyond legal regulation. This included 80-90pc of online operators, many of whom are located in Asia.

These Asian companies often existed in a complex matrix involving agents, super-agents and ‘foot soldiers’ operating at different levels; such a pyramid hampered attempts to track individuals’ involvement and follow the money-laundering.

In 1995 the industry comprised 250 operators. Now between 5,000 and 10,000 were many known, many of them based in tax havens and subject to light, if any, regulation. Betting was now possible all day, all year and on manners of competitions and events.

The challenge facing regulators and investigators had been excerbated because matchfixing for the sake of a sports result was not almost old-fashioned. This meant that ‘target’ matches were not so obvious while betting potential had been complicated by the emergence of spot-fixing.

However, sportsmen were being lured into a false sense of personal complacency in believing it was harmless to accept ‘easy’ money by generating a first corner or foul or throw-in.

‘Grey areas’

Accepting even a small sum, however, rendered the perpetrator vulnerable to blackmail for the commission of more serious and manipulative offences.

Cornu pointed out the difficulties posed by the grey areas of competitive sport and the absence of effective internationally unified legislation against sports fraud.

He posed instances of clubs fielding weakened sides in ‘dead’ matches, accepting third-party bonuses and even whether a prohibition should be enacted against shirt-advertising by betting companies.

“There used to be advertising for tobacco companies,” said Cornu. “Then the mood changed. Now people are discussing alcohol advertising. Maybe one day the mood will change for betting advertising too.”


** Pierre Cornu was addressing the Young Reporters course organised in Tel Aviv by the AIPS, the international sports journalists’ association, in association with UEFA

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