Introduction

If recent events in the world of soccer are to go by, gambling is a dangerous game for professional sports persons and can have a serious impact on careers.

It is therefore important to highlight recent betting-scandals to ensure that those engaged in managing sports, recognise and take steps to seek to assist professional sportspersons to avoid potentially damaging behaviour.

In order to protect the integrity of sport, many football associations and governing bodies have rules in place prohibiting anyone involved in the game (players, managers, referees, team officials) from betting. This refers to betting, either directly or indirectly, on any match or competition taking place anywhere in the world in order to prevent the influencing of results.

High-Profile Cases

In April 2017, the controversial professional footballer Joey Barton received an 18 month ban from football from the English FA. This was as a direct result of placing 1,260 bets on football matches between 2003 and 2013. Mr Barton asserted that this arose as a result of a gambling addiction. The length of the ban effectively ended the 34 year old’s career.

In the case of Joey Barton, the majority of the bets placed were minimal in value, and he lost £1,199.40 from these bets. It was clear that the motive behind the betting was not to seek to undermine the integrity of the game and influence a result of a football match. This gave rise to claims by pundits and punters alike as to “what harm was done?”. Some argued that this was an over-reaction to a harmless bit of fun that countless people engage in every weekend.

Mr. Barton, in accepting his punishment, highlighted the contradiction between the strict anti-gambling rules and the gambling culture in sport. Every team has an “official betting partner”, TV coverage is filled with constant advertisements of gambling products, and radio announcers casually discuss the “odds” on a particular game. This coupled with the growth of internet gambling has made placing a bet on a game dangerously easy. These influences affect the general public also but sports stars are particularly vulnerable due to their wealth, isolation from family or friends and the vast amount of leisure time they enjoy (as a work-day for a footballer may consist of 2-3 hours training).

As an example, recent tabloid news speculation alleged that Wayne Rooney lost over £500,000 in a two hour splurge in a Casino.

It is therefore vital to educate sports stars of the dangers posed by the accessibility of gambling. They should avoid, and if required deactivate, accounts on mobile betting apps; they should avoid placing any kind of bet, and they should be encouraged to find alternative activities for their free time.

High-Profile Cases

The criminal aspect of gambling recently came to the forefront in Ireland. The spotlight was placed on Athlone Town FC after UEFA informed the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) that it had evidence of irregular betting patterns in relation to a fixture between Longford United and Athlone Town which gave rise to an allegation of match-fixing.

In this fixture, UEFA observed that the betting odds on a goal being scored at the end of each half were shortening despite conventional understanding that the odds should increase as the chances of a goal being scored with such little time left became more unlikely. The cause of this was traced to Asian betting markets where significant sums were wagered on that particular event occurring. It would have been suspicious if such a large bet was placed on that fixture in Ireland, never mind the other side of the world.

This kind of alleged match-fixing can arise where criminal organisations approach players and officials who are offered incentives to carry out particular behaviours that can be betted on such as goals scored, yellow and red cards received and even the number of throw-ins within a particular time period. On 18 May 2017, a Swedish top division clash between AIK and IFK Göteborg (Gothenburg) was postponed after an attempt to fix the game was uncovered when a player reported that he was offered a bribe to under-perform in the fixture. The postponement of the match was the most appropriate response whilst investigations began into the allegations. This is an example of the correct procedure that should be taken by all stakeholders involved when tackling match-fixing.

When UEFA and international anti-match-fixing watchdogs such as Federbet discover an irregular bet on a particular event that gives rise to a suspicion of match-fixing, the punishment for those implicated can be severe.

Just this year, Ghanaian referee Joseph Odartei Lamptey was banned for life by FIFA after being found guilty of influencing the result of a World Cup qualifying match (http://bit.ly/2rU2DZT). In this game, Mr. Lamptey awarded a penalty kick for a handball that never was, to the incredulity of those in attendance. It was later proven to be a violation of FIFA match-fixing ethics.

Conclusion

A life-time ban from the sport is an incredible risk for a sports person to take. Therefore, a sports person should not put himself in such a vulnerable position. If an individual approaches you with a proposal to influence a game, reject it and report it to the relevant authorities (the Gardaí and the governing body of your sport), who can issue the appropriate punishment. This is the only way we can keep the ‘Beautiful Game’ and other sports, clean.