Sports and racing integrity under the microscope at 37th Asian Racing Conference


The sixth plenary session of the 37th Asian Racing Conference in Seoul tackled the very ever-pressing issue of integrity, both in sport in general and more specifically in racing.

Mr Kim Nag Soon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Korea Racing Authority, set the tone for the session with his opening remarks: “In our industry, nothing is more important than integrity. If we are to earn and retain the trust of the public, then our sport must not only be clean and fair, but also must be seen to be clean and fair. It is what sets us apart from illegal gambling operators. Going forward we need to strengthen education of all participants and work across borders with partners, sharing information and intelligence to combat our common foe and uphold the trust in our racing product.”

Sport around the world has been accompanied by scandal. Allegations of match fixing, bribery of officials, illegal gambling, doping and money laundering have tarnished sport for decades, eroding the public’s trust. Based on match fixing case studies from around the world, Professor Jack Anderson, Director of Sports Law Studies at the University of Melbourne offered his view on recent and current integrity issues in the world of sport.

“We may think that the threat is external, but the threat is from within,” said Prof Anderson. “Insider information is the key integrity threat. It can manipulate betting markets, putting the integrity of the sport, and of the brand, at stake. Educating jockeys or players is key. There is a demand for information – so how does one stop the supply? You cut off that supply by educating the jockeys or the players.”

Prof Anderson went on to explain that there is no such thing as a victimless crime when it comes to corruption. “Corruption and lack of integrity has a price tag, it costs the sport. A fix in a race or at the bookies affects every consumer on a micro level, and on a macro level it leads to transnational economic crime. For criminal syndicates this is a beautiful outcome.”

Dealing with match fixing is resource intensive, hence more and more sports bodies are relying on commercial operators to flag unusual betting patterns. According to Prof Anderson, that raises several legal questions, such as what constitutes an irregular pattern, what is the correct ban, and how do you make the punishment proportionate to the crime given courts these days reject life bans?

In conclusion, Prof Anderson added, “nothing corrodes quicker than the whiff of corruption and therefore integrity needs to be your number one priority.”

With global racing integrity issues as the main theme of his presentation, the Honourable Justice Jack Forrest of the Supreme Court of Victoria (Australia) reminded delegates of the ease with which a scandal impacts the sport.

“The prosperity of international racing relies on its gambling revenue, and if it is not a level playing field, betting and reputational damage affects all stakeholders. Stewards need to operate effectively and be seen to be doing so,” said Justice Forrest.

He specifically addressed the ongoing doping problems in Australian racing.

“After the last four years, the public can be forgiven for thinking that cheating and doping is rife in Australian racing. First we had the cobalt scandal and more recently the Aquanita scandal, where ‘top ups’ of sodium bicarbonate were given to their horses on racedays over a number of years.”

Justice Forrest noted that racing has been effective in creating an integrity infrastructure that has, in general, been successful, while other sports have often lacked such setups. However, he cautioned that the implementation of such programmes requires more due diligence than expected.

“There have always been individuals trying to get an edge in racing. The question is how quickly is it detected and how well is it controlled,” he offered. “The current answer seems to be that perhaps the controls are not sufficient. That raises several other questions. Should integrity be quarantined from the controlling bodies? How tough should drug rules be and how can we improve hearings?”

Justice Forrest feels that removing integrity issues from the controlling bodies is unlikely to be effective. “I cannot see that such a split would be effective. The costs of doing so are significant and invariably this type of stand-alone organisation is established and regulated by government. On the toughness of drug rules, there are diverse approaches worldwide. Not all positives require a trainer to be disqualified. There are various situations in which the rules need to be adaptable.”

Justice Forrest concluded by saying that while the cobalt issue has dragged on for three years and is still not finalised, the top-up scandal has been dealt with in a matter of months, with bans and penalties following shortly after the verdict. While this is a step in the right direction, he noted, there are still a host of legal issues to resolve.

Chairman Kim closed the session with a question to the panel as to what they considered to be the biggest single threat to racing. Justice Forrest added that the quality of technology now used in the monitoring of races, and having expert Stewards, meant that manipulation of race outcomes was no longer the real challenge, while integrity units in other sports have often lacked such expertise. In his view, performance-enhancing drugs was the central integrity issue for acing.

Issued on behalf of the Asian Racing Federation