The Soccer World Cup is with us once again.  With it comes plenty of talk of integrity in sport, not only in how sports are played but also in how they are administered.   And we can’t forget how gambling can impact on both.

There is no doubt that technology allows gambling to be available almost anywhere at any time.   And in Australia, there are no real or effective impediments to participate in online gambling.  It is freely available, with thousands of regulated and un-regulated sites eagerly reaching out to Australians to send their hard earned off-shore.

So while the punters are free to roam across the various options, where are we at with protecting against match fixing and other corrupt activities?  In the recent past, State governments have passed into criminal law new offences which aim to make the corruption of betting outcomes in sports punishable by jail time (eg, NSW Crimes Act sections 193H-Q). A core feature of these crimes is that the conduct concerned does, or could, corrupt the outcome of betting on the sport.  So far, so good.

What about enforcement?  Well, we’ve seen the recent high profile convictions of those involved in match fixing of Victorian Premier League soccer matches.  We’ve also seen the highly publicised arrest and lesser publicised withdrawal of criminal action against the UK visitor who was passing results back to his UK employer from court-side at the Australian Open earlier this year.  Mixed results I’d say.

The criminal offences are just that – criminal.  So sports controlling bodies have an obligation to report their suspicions to police, not gambling regulators.  The police then investigate.  In the right cases, the police will seek prosecution and jail time can result.  Information collected by the police about any individual (guilty or innocent) should be kept confidential, in the usual way police do such things.

Given these possible consequences, sports controlling bodies therefore have an obligation to report people to police only where they have a real and genuine belief that an offence may have been committed.  This obligation should be carefully and scrupulously exercised, only where the facts and circumstances actually might fall within the offence.  To make sure that happens, sports controlling bodies should base their decisions on a thorough understanding of what constitutes the offence.

What sports controlling bodies should not do is jump to conclusions too quickly.  Remember, anyone can use their mobile phone to gamble anywhere at any time.  A person is not breaching any law by doing so.  Sports venues don’t prohibit the use of mobile technology for gambling purposes while at the venue.  Nor are there restrictions on bringing other forms of mobile technology into sports venues, eg, tablets and laptops, for legitimate and lawful purposes.

So those same sports controlling bodies that permit mobile technology should be careful when they point the finger at their paying customers and fans.  Detaining people while police are called to attend is a potentially inflammatory situation. Individual freedoms can be abused and a person’s character can be defamed.  Calling on the “greater good” does not excuse trashing a person’s rights.  Repeated bad calls on this will contribute to a loss of confidence in those who are entrusted with governing the sport.