The European Sports Security Association (ESSA) today called for the establishment of a robust and independent global body able to hand down tough penalties and sanctions that will act as effective disincentives in tackling corruption in sport. ESSA’s call comes following the lenient sentence handed down by the World Motor Sport Council to the Renault Formula One team found guilty of arranging a crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.
Whilst the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) ruled that Renault was guilty of "breaches […] of unparalleled severity”, the Renault team received only a suspended sentence and has been allowed to compete to the end of the 2011 season. This notwithstanding the WMSC found the Renault team had not only “compromised the integrity of the sport” but also “endangered the lives of spectators, officials [and] other competitors”.
ESSA maintains there exists a fundamental contradiction with sports bodies self-regulating on issues of integrity: often faced with a conflict of interest between protecting the reputation of their sport and applying effective sanctions, too often sports bodies lean in favour of the former. That is why ESSA underlines the urgent need to establish a WADA-style (World Anti Doping Agency) body to tackle corruption in all sports globally. Khalid Ali, Secretary General of ESSA, said: “It’s in the interest of all sports bodies to promote their own sports and engage in damage limitation when a scandal breaks. This means that they often don’t apply the rules as rigorously enough as they could or should, or hand down the tough penalties that would act as effective deterrents. This latest episode is a prime example of this phenomenon. Corruption in sports is a global issue that requires a global answer.”
Ostensibly in an effort to protect the integrity of sports, sports rights owners have in recent months been lobbying policy-makers for a levy on sports book operators in the form of a sports betting right, to fund their own integrity units. It is argued that the very nature of sports books promotes corruption and match-fixing in sports, and therefore the sports books industry should foot the bill for any efforts made by individual sports federations to tackle such corruption.
ESSA rejects this argument as spurious and asserts that the problem of corruption and match-fixing go much deeper, to the very heart of sports. To lay the blame for all sports corruption at the door of the betting industry is a mistake and morally wrong: this has been amply demonstrated by recent scandals in Formula One, Rugby, Handball and even Lawn Bowls, where none of the match-fixing scandals involved any links to betting.
Integrity in the balance
Secretary General of Brussels-based ESSA Khalid Ali stressed that sports integrity will not be guaranteed by the creation of a sports betting right, as currently envisioned in France, and that to view sports integrity through the prism of betting alone is facile. “It is unacceptable for sport federations to use the issue of sports integrity as a pretext to seek additional revenues from the gaming industry, when it is the members of sports federations themselves—whether players, coaches or officials—who are routinely found to be the origin of corruption in sports. The only effective way to tackling this malaise in sports is by applying stiff penalties: as sports federations themselves seem incapable of combating corruption within their respective sports, we see urgent need for a global sports policeman”, Ali concluded.
Brussels-based ESSA has monitoring agreements with a number of major sports federations and acts as an early-warning system in detecting and combating irregularities in betting patterns around sports fixtures.
The European Sports Security Association (ESSA) was established in 2005 by the leading online sports book operators in Europe to monitor any irregular betting patterns or possible insider betting from within each sport. To achieve this goal ESSA implemented an early warning system between its members that highlights any suspicious betting activity. The Early Warning System allows ESSA to work with the Sports Regulators and their disciplinary and legal department, ensuring that when an alert is given the regulator is informed immediately which may prevent the possibility of any game manipulation on a given event. So far, ESSA has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with FIFA, UEFA, EPFL, The FA, DFB, ATP , ITF, WTA and has established close relations with the IOC and many other sports regulators.