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Why does sports integrity matter?

Author:  Ben Paterson
As public pressure grows on sports' right to govern themselves, Head of Integrity Ben Paterson dissects the fundamental importance of safeguarding the integrity of competitions
Integrity is a fundamental principle to any sport's global appeal and success

Sport has never been subject to greater media and public scrutiny. The perception that certain sports have failed to adequately deal with issues of corruption and poor governance has meant that sports bodies are locked in a constant battle over the right to govern themselves without state or legal intervention.

Doping, match-fixing and other threats to a sport’s integrity can fundamentally undermine belief in a governing body’s ability to self-regulate, damage public confidence, diminish fan engagement and threaten commercial sustainability.

The argument for sports’ self-regulation is often prefaced with the plea that “sport is special”, that is has the unique power to promote change, inspire and unite people. However, these fundamental principles are reliant on the fairness of competition and are entirely undermined without integrity or transparency.

Money talks 

Whilst arguments about the importance of sport in society can sound somewhat idealistic, those sports that fail to exhibit good governance, root out corruption and protect the integrity of their competitions can face severe financial consequences.

The Premier League’s staggering commercial success in underpinned by the belief that it is world football’s most competitive domestic competition. This hard-earned reputation hinges on the league’s unpredictability – the intrinsic sense that every team can beat one another. The integrity of the Premier League is at the very heart of its success.

Conversely, whilst the cycling world may have hoped to write off the Lance Armstrong era by declaring there was no winner from 1999 to 2005, the sport faces a far greater challenge in attracting and retaining a younger generation of fan who will inevitably question its integrity both now and in the years to come.

Fans aren’t alone in refusing to engage with dishonest sports – a sport with a history or reputation for corruption is enough to make most sponsors run a mile, draining sports of a key income source and further opportunities to grow their fan base.

The bigger picture is this: without a progressive approach to integrity, sports risk losing the interest of fans and can become untouchable to sponsors and commercial partners. In an increasingly competitive entertainment landscape, the taint of match-fixing can cause severe and even terminal damage to a sport’s commercial viability.

What needs to be done?

In February, Genius Sports brought together the brightest minds from the worlds of sport, law enforcement and regulated betting for what was Latin America’s first major sports integrity conference.

The debate focused on the global threat to sports integrity and identified three key requirements to defeat match-fixing and betting-related corruption: deterrence, education and intelligence and monitoring.

When it comes to deterrence, tough disciplinary and legal sanctions must be imposed against athletes and officials involved in match-fixing. It is also necessary to ensure that law enforcement agencies devote sufficient time and resources to investigate and prosecute the other (non-sporting) participants and criminal organisations that initiate, perpetrate and ultimately profit from these activities.

The provision of betting and match-fixing education, meanwhile, to a wide range of stakeholders including players, coaches, referees and administrators is of key importance. Sports must ensure that individuals are able to recognise, resist and report any form of match manipulation.

In terms of intelligence and monitoring, sports should be willing to utilise technology to monitor the global betting markets and experts to analyse and interpret unusual or suspicious betting activity.

Genius Sports works in partnership with sports governing bodies and leagues to help them to identify, prevent, investigate and manage the threats posed by match-fixing and betting-related corruption.

At the heart of our service is our proprietary bet monitoring system, SportIM, which monitors the global betting markets 24/7/365 to identify unusual or potentially suspicious betting activity. We also employ a global team of intelligence officers, betting analysts and educators that provide specialist expertise.

Match-fixing is a global problem affecting every sport. Its perpetrators are international, well-funded and organised. Incidents of match-fixing damage public trust in sport and threaten the commercial revenues that are its lifeblood.

Federations and leagues must take immediate and proactive steps to deter those that seek to corrupt and manipulate their sport. The time to act is now.

This article was first published in the April issue of SportBusiness.