Surrounded by some of the country’s finest athletes taught me
a lot about who athletes are and how they think. Honour was paramount to every
one of them—whether they were bobsledders or speed skaters, ski jumpers or
rhythmic gymnasts. Everyone wanted to achieve their best performance, everyone
wanted to make the team or win the race, but no one wanted to cheat.
The reality I see on the
news is often difficult to reconcile with my memories of the decent,
strong, driven people who cared about the sweat and honour on the road
to victory more than the glory of a gold medal.
remind myself that while the vast majority of athletes—humans even—act
morally even when no one is watching, there will always be a minority
that flouts the rules when they can. And it is against the actions of
that minority—whether in sports or in banking—that we must take
London Olympics only a month away, our eyes now turn to those
safeguards. While the most conspicuous Olympic preparations are the
Village and the ceremonies, there are also other, less glamorous,
preparations that must take place. For example, ensuring athletes don’t
think of doping as the paramount opportunity for would-be cheaters. But
as the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques
Rogge, has cautioned, illegal betting now ranks alongside doping as a
major threat to the future of sport.
betting goes hand-in-hand with match fixing, which occurs when an event
is played to a completely or partially pre-determined result. This can
occur if an athlete (or team) deliberately loses either for a perceived
future competitive advantage or in union with gamblers. Given that not
all Olympians are well paid (or even paid at all), the monetary
incentive to throw a game might be stronger than you’d think.
have instantaneous communication and universal broadcast to thank for
the rising prevalence illegal betting and match fixing. Rogge points
out: “I can’t open my newspapers without finding an article on the
prevalence of cheating and match fixing. In Germany, Italy, Belgium,
Hungary, Turkey, Greece. In China, in South Korea, in Singapore. It is a
world problem and it is a very pernicious problem.”
doping, there are mechanisms to detect this type of cheating. For
example, officials watch bookmakers for irregular betting patterns. In
the UK, British-based bookmakers are required to inform the Gambling
Commission when they detect irregular betting patters—which will provide
the Games with an early warning system for potential corruption and
allow them to investigate before the abuse gets out of hand.
Unfortunately for the integrity of sports, bookmaking firms are
increasingly moving offshore, where they are not bound by these rules.
While major exchanges argue they share information voluntarily, they do
not have an incentive to rat out their own customers (hey, just like
banks!) and so it is unlikely they would share as much if information
sharing were mandatory.
UK has vowed to address this loophole, government officials have noted
the changes won’t take effect until after the Games. Tim Payton, an
adviser and spokesman for the collective of governing bodies, responded:
“As things stand, the IOC will not have the right to monitor all bets
placed in the UK during the Games – and this is of concern.”
It is a
concern. Without full information and monitoring the IOC will not be
able to fully detect cheating. And you can bet your bottom dollar (pun
intended) that those who do seek to cheat will be the first in line at
the offshore bookies. Suppose (very hypothetically)
athletes were suddenly exempt from drug testing if they found lodging
outside the Olympic Village…where would all the cheaters go? The same
principal holds for bookies and for tax evasion. If you create a
loophole or allow a safe haven for cheaters, you’ve undermined your own
system. You’ve lost the integrity.
Task Force Blog
Hollingshead is a Task Force blog contributor. Formerly a Junior
Economist at Global Financial Integrity, Ann is now a Research Analyst
for ECONorthwest, an economic consulting firm in the Pacific Northwest.]