On 1 August 2018, the Federal Minister for Sport, Senator Bridget McKenzie, released the report of the sports integrity review led by the Hon. James Wood AO Q.C. (the Report).1 On 12 February 2019, the Minister released the Government’s Response to the Report (the Response). In the Response, the Government explained that it is generally supportive of the recommendations of the Report.
In the Response, the Government indicated that:
- Sports Integrity Australia (SIA) will be established as the national sports integrity commission;
- State and Territory regulators will continue to bear primary responsibility for gambling licensing and regulation in their respective jurisdictions;
- SIA is best placed to lead collaboration with stakeholders to achieve a model based on the Australian Sports Wagering Scheme (ASWS) as proposed in the Report and that it would work towards the development of this model;
- match-fixing laws at the Federal level will be introduced;
- a National Sports Tribunal (NST) will be established as a body to facilitate the determination of sports disputes, including in respect of anti-doping matters; and
- it has no intention of relaxing current restrictions on online in-play wagering.
SIA and the ASWS
SIA will be established to become the primary point of contact for all stakeholders, and to co-operate with State and Territory regulators in respect of sports integrity matters.
The Government confirmed that Australia will become a party to the Macolin Convention. In accordance with the requirements of Article 13 of the Macolin Convention2, the Government has stated that SIA will serve as a “National Platform”.
SIA will be established in two stages, as follows:
- Stage 1 involves the consolidation of the sports integrity functions of several existing sport regulatory bodies into SIA, including:
- the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority;
- the National Integrity of Sport Unit; and
- the national sports integrity functions of Sport Australia.
Although the Government recognised the importance of having a centralised hub for collecting, analysing and disseminating information in order to respond effectively to match fixing (as is required under Article 13 of the Macolin Convention), the Government did not commit in the Response to creating such a hub.
- Stage 2 involves consideration of the recommendations relating to the establishment of the ASWS. The Government stated that these recommendations have significant merit. However, the Response only provides limited guidance on how these recommendations might be implemented. The implementation of these recommendations will be subject to the availability of funding and obtaining the support of industry.
Some of these recommendations relate directly to the manner in which wagering should be regulated. In particular, consideration will be given to the extent to which SIA will be responsible for:
- overseeing and co-ordinating the regulation of sports wagering in Australia in conjunction with key stakeholders;
- assessing whether individual national sports organisations (NSOs) have the capability to become sports controlling bodies, and implement product fee and integrity agreements, under the ASWS;
- assessing the suitability of wagering service providers (WSPs) to be authorised to offer Australian sports markets under the ASWS; and
- drawing on the expertise and resources of Australian law enforcement bodies when assessing the suitability of NSOs and WSPs.
However, it is clear from the Response that it is the Government’s view that State and Territory regulators will continue to be responsible primarily for the regulation and licensing of gambling operators in their respective jurisdictions.
Match-fixing laws will be introduced at the Federal level to complement the existing laws in various States and Territories. The Government acknowledges the need for a nationally consistent approach to match-fixing, especially in light of the national, and sometimes international, nature of Australian sport.
The Report recommended that match-fixing offences should be connected to wagering outcomes, yet the Response does not refer expressly to this recommendation. The scope of match-fixing offences will be determined following further consideration by the Government; however, consideration will be given as to whether offences should be introduced relating to the wrongful use of insider information relating to sport.
The Government has indicated that the NST will be established for an initial 2 year trial period. This period will enable the suitability of the NST for resolving disputes in sports to be reviewed and assessed to determine if it should be established on a permanent basis. The NST will comprise three divisions: Anti-Doping, General and Appeals. It is expected that the NST will provide a forum for resolving disputes for athletes, support staff and smaller sports which do not have sufficient dispute resolution mechanisms in place currently.
Online In-play Wagering
The Government noted the recommendation of the Report that consideration should be given as to whether Australian licensed WSPs should be permitted to provide online in-play wagering and recognised that the rationale for this recommendation was linked to addressing the integrity impacts of illegal offshore wagering.
In doing so, the Government expressed its concern about the significant integrity issues arising from the continued use of Australian sports information in the course of illegal offshore WSPs supplying wagering services, including online in-play wagering services, and noted the difficulties encountered by Australian law enforcement bodies in attempting to access data held by these WSPs.
In the Response, the Government reiterated its views as expressed in its response to the O’Farrell Review, (namely, that it had no intention of permitting in-play online sports wagering) and emphasised the progress that has been made subsequently in responding to the threat of offshore illegal wagering. This recognises the steps being taken by the ACMA in targeting illegal offshore wagering, as highlighted in its most recent quarterly report.3 Accordingly, the Government stated that it had no intention of permitting online in-play wagering.
Where To From Here?
The Response demonstrates that the Government is strongly supportive of the necessity to take steps to protect the integrity of sports.
Nonetheless, it appears that the Government wishes to preserve the status quo in relation to the regulation of sports wagering. Many of the recommendations relating to Australian licensed WSPs are the subject of an agreement in principle only. In particular, the implementation of the recommendations relating to wagering, set out in stage 2 of the Response, is contingent on obtaining industry support.
The pace at which the recommendations are implemented will likely be affected by the sports integrity landscape over the coming years, the feedback received from stakeholders during the consultation process and the appetite of future Governments to delve into a complex and dynamic area of law.