Canadian Sport at Significant Risk of Match Manipulation

February 12, 2019

Jeremy Luke, Senior Director, Sport Integrity, CCES 

Canada is referred to as a global leader in the fight against doping in sport. This recognition is well-deserved given the very significant efforts undertaken following the Ben Johnson scandal in the late 1980s. At that time, Canada identified the threat of doping to the integrity of the sport system and to the health and safety of all athletes. Canada led the charge throughout the 90s in developing comprehensive and sophisticated programs to effectively deal with the issue of doping in sport. In addition, we actively helped to develop capacity around the world so other countries could benefit. It remains safe to say - notwithstanding recent troubling issues in the fight for clean sport around the world - that our Canadian sport system remains a global anti-doping leader and is well positioned to protect its athletes from the scourge of doping.

In contrast to Canada’s global leadership in anti-doping, I would suggest that over the past decade or so Canada has taken a “head-in-the-sand” approach regarding the issue of match manipulation.

For those that might not be aware, match manipulation typically occurs when a competition is manipulated in some way for the benefit of individuals who are betting on the outcome for financial gain. Often the person engaged in the manipulation is doing so at the behest of organized crime syndicates. These criminals are known to target and groom the sportsperson (e.g., player, coach, official) to take certain actions or perform specific tasks. Once engaged, the techniques used make it very difficult for the sportsperson to withdraw from the scheme. The person may not fully realize all the implications of their conduct.

While the Canadian public may not be aware of match manipulation, it is a massive problem that impacts many sports around the world and in Canada too. Tennis is a prime example. Just this month two major stories emerged: Belgian tennis fixing inquiry had 100 individuals implicated and Spain arrests 15 people in tennis match fixing investigation. Stories of this nature, across many sports, emerge weekly. Experts suggest that it is only a matter of time before headlines like these make the news in Canada.

Some people argue that there is not significant betting interest in Canadian sporting events and therefore, we are not at significant risk for this type of manipulation. I strongly disagree. A recent assessment completed by Sportradar Integrity Services indicated that worldwide betting occurred on at least 12 sports in Canada. This research points out the importance for the Canadian sport system to have well established policies and programs in place to mitigate the risk of match manipulation that can result from the pressures of sport gambling.

Over the past decade, many countries and international sports have taken action. The Council of Europe has developed a convention on match manipulation with over 20 countries meeting regularly to discuss their national platforms. International sport federations for soccer, tennis, rugby and the International Olympic Committee have invested considerably in match manipulation prevention programs through investigations and education.

While these developments have been occurring internationally, Canada has done very little. Unlike our robust tools for the fight against doping in sport, in Canada we do not have a national platform that deals with match manipulation – one that would include a common policy defining and prohibiting match manipulation, providing education to athletes, coaches and officials, establishing investigative procedures to look into allegations of suspicious activity, and effective cooperation with law enforcement and betting regulators.

The Canadian sport system is at significant risk of match manipulation. Let’s hope it doesn’t require an international scandal the likes of Ben Johnson for Canada to start taking this issue seriously. Please join the CCES and McLaren Global Sport Solutions Inc. as we co-host a national symposium this April in Toronto to examine the issue of Match Manipulation and Gambling in Sport and to begin to craft practicable and workable solutions.

Visit the symposium website to register and for more information.