Industry leaders say the Canadian sport system is at significant risk of match manipulation that can result from the pressures of sport gambling. They’re lobbying the Canadian government to develop a national platform that would protect the integrity of sport as well as shield athletes from influence and corruption.
By Angela Kryhul
Match manipulation and gambling in sport are two highly complex, quickly evolving and inextricably linked issues. On the match fixing side, athletes are vulnerable to grooming, recruitment and threats by organized crime. And while single-game betting is illegal in Canada, gamblers easily sidestep the rules by going online to access international betting sites. It’s estimated that Canadians wager over $14 billion on single sports events through unregulated, illegal or offshore markets, and that global wagers bet $20 billion on Canadian sporting competitions each year.
In October 2019, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) and McLaren Global Sport Solutions (MGSS) published a white paper with five key recommendations. The action plan is in response to discussions held earlier that year during the International Symposium on Match Manipulation & Gambling in Sport, which brought together stakeholders from national and international sport, athlete representatives, the legal community, regulatory agencies, academia, law enforcement and the gambling industry.
Q+A with Paul Melia, President and CEO, Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport
How can the federal government move forward on this topic?
We would like to see a federal commission created to address this issue and develop a national approach. Let’s not wait for a scandal to erupt in this country. Let’s try and get ahead of it.
We need to update the legislation in Canada and to create a better framework. I think the notion that the best way to protect against match manipulation in sport is to prevent single-game betting is a really outdated understanding of what’s happening because online single-game betting is already happening.
In some ways it’s not dissimilar to how we’ve approached marijuana in this country by taking a harm reduction approach and by regulating and legislating the industry so we can control the quality and sale of the product, and at the same time government can realize some revenues from it through taxation. It’s not a perfect system, of course, and it doesn’t eliminate all of the black market. But I think a similar approach could be applied to the issue of gambling and sport.
There needs to be an independent sport integrity unit in Canada to ensure sport organizations are taking steps to protect their sport and their athletes against match manipulation. We need a place that can receive anonymous calls so that it can be investigated independently.
I think we need to look at how we can create a system where some of the proceeds from gambling find their way back to sport organizations. We’re seeing that happening in the United States now.
How can sport event organizers be proactive on this topic?
It starts with educating oneself about the issue. As an event organizer, you should consider whether a policy around match manipulation, gambling and sport is appropriate and whether your sport organizations or host committees have athlete education programs and policies that address this issue.
WHITE PAPER RECOMMENDATIONS
Establish a Federal Commission to examine the issue of match manipulation in Canadian sport and to provide recommendations for action. Stakeholder input should include Canadian sport (amateur and professional), provincial and territorial governments, Canadian gaming industry representatives and regulators, law enforcement agencies, private sport integrity companies, legal professionals, the general public and social service agencies responsible for harm reduction efforts related to gambling.
Canada should become a signatory to the Council of Europe Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions (i.e., the Macolin Convention).
A review of relevant sections of the Canadian Criminal Code, including amendments to address the prosecution of corrupt practices focused specifically on match manipulation in Canadian sport. Currently, there are no specific provisions in Canada’s Criminal Code to prevent match fixing and no mention of offshore sports betting.
Enhanced efforts to educate and inform athletes, coaches, officials and sport organizations about the risks associated with match fixing in sport.
Creation of an independent sport integrity unit in Canada. Successful international initiatives include the Tennis Integrity Unit, an independent body covering professional tennis worldwide with a zero-tolerance policy on betting-related corruption.
Source: Match Manipulation and Gambling: A Growing Threat to Canadian Sport Integrity
The amount annually bet around the world on Canadian sport
The amount wagered globally, per game, on some of the most popular sport events hosted on Canadian soil
Source: Sportradar Integrity Services
The United States moved toward legalized sports betting on May 14, 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Now, each state can decide whether it will legalize and regulate sports betting within its jurisdiction.
The 2014 Macolin Convention is a multilateral treaty devoted to detecting and preventing match fixing in sport. Canada is not among the 38 signatories to the convention.
CANADIAN RISK ASSESSMENT
These 15 sports see their competitions and/or events offered for betting by a notable number of global bookmakers: Badminton, baseball, basketball, combat sports, cricket, curling, esports, football, golf, ice hockey, motorsport, rugby league, rugby union, soccer and tennis.
Source: Canadian Sports Wagering: Betting Exposure & Integrity Risk
Fact Sheet; CCES; Sportradar Integrity Services
IIHF Education Program
“We thought we just needed to monitor top events,” IIHF legal director, Ashley Ehlert, told the 2019 International Symposium on Match Manipulation & Gambling in Sport. “We learned very quickly that that’s not the case. We noticed betting operators offering odds on lower IIHF level championships. Some players are making minimum wage…they’re highly susceptible to matching fixing.” IIHF offers workshops and publications to players, officials, coaches and administrators, which reinforce the following themes:
SKATE SMART: Know ice hockey integrity rules and recognize when you are being approached by a match fixer.
SKATE STRAIGHT: Never bet on or fix an ice hockey game.
SKATE STRONG: Show courage and integrity by always telling someone about any suspicious activity and never sharing sensitive information.