By Niovie Constantinou, Contributor
Both the sports and sports betting industries are vast in terms of value but also impact on the world economy as well as society. In 2020 the global sports industry was worth up to $620 billion, while the sports betting industry was worth approximately $200 billion. Time and again we have discussed the impact of the sports industry around the world, whether through creating job opportunities, bringing fans together at sporting events, or motivating athletes break world records. In last week’s article, the impact of the sports betting industry was addressed, evidencing that sports betting is now part of the sports culture in such a way that the two industries have come to complement each other. For example, in England, betting sponsorship of sports amounts to more than £70 million per year, and many clubs in the English football league have been adamant that they could not survive without the income that they gain from sports betting operators.
Indeed, the interplay between the two industries is considered the norm in modern culture, sports fans subscribing to online betting agencies, betting operators sponsoring sports clubs and so on. But let’s not forget the core values of sport dating back to ancient Greece: the spirit of “fair-play” and the notion of the free individual who aspires to achieve excellence through a contest governed by just laws. Indeed, one of the pillars of the sports industry is upholding the integrity of sports. The uncertainty of the outcome of sports contests and the possibility that anything can happen is what makes the sports industry so attractive and entertaining. Sports fans around the world passionately follow their sport of choice because of curiosity and in the hope that their team will be the one which prevails. If the results of sports contests are pre-determined, the thrill is lost, along with the respect for and reputation of the sport.
Match-fixing is harmful to the very core of the sports industry and it is believed that the rise of online sports betting creates an incentive for people seeking to fix matches to connect with athletes, coaches and officials from all over the world. The vastness of the sports betting industry and the range of the types of bets available potentially increases the value of inside information. Sportradar, a company that collects and analyses sports data, has estimated that around 1% of the matches they monitor are likely to be fixed, while indicating a steep rise in suspicious betting and match fixing activity during the pandemic. As popular sports events were being cancelled, international betting operators were highlighting less popular sports and leagues, including local low-tier soccer events, table tennis and e-sports. This, coupled with the financial challenges experienced by teams and athletes, made them more susceptible to contributing to match-fixing for financial gain.
Clearly, one of the match fixing culprits is that of sports betting. But is it enough of a culprit to outweigh the benefits? It seems that there has recently been a move to close loopholes in the betting industry, including taking measures to keep the sports industry and sports betting industry separate. For example, the UK government has recently discussed a potential ban on betting firms from sponsoring football shirts of English Premier League clubs in an effort to loosen football’s close ties with betting. Of course, whether this measure will have an impact on match fixing is unknown, especially taking into consideration that betting firms may still advertise through other means during football matches, while pro sponsorship ban campaigners are calling for football advertisements to be betting-free on all fronts, not just on television or in the stadium.
On the other hand, to ban sports betting altogether would damage a billion-dollar industry and potentially also harm the sports industry, not to mention that betting can always persist in an “unofficial” and unregulated manner. It is therefore important that any measures taken to counter match fixing strike a balance between restoring sport integrity and maintaining the financial stability of the sports industry. A useful tool in the fight against match fixing is monitoring pre and in-game betting markets in order to timely detect match manipulation. Several major leagues have employed services that provide such systems for detecting planned match fixing. Timely detection and severe ramifications for the parties responsible, be it betting operators, sports clubs or other stakeholders, would be a good start. For example, Brazilian tennis player Diego Matos has been banned from professional tennis for life after being convicted for match fixing offences.
Such actions should discourage players and other stakeholders alike to be involved in match fixing, but would they be enough? It is evident that the sports betting and sports industries definitely intertwine and this inevitably creates breeding ground for match fixing. Perhaps this new movement to distance the betting industry from the sports industry is the way to tackle the very core of the problem, that is, the abuse of sports betting, and will hopefully be effective to restore sport integrity.
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