By Cliodhna Guy, Head of Licensing, Legal andCompliance, Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board
In recent times we have seen an increase in the establishment of Integrity Units by international federations such as tennis, athletics, football and others in order to better manage the growing integrity challenges facing racing and other sports. The disciplinary and integrity processes in sports bodies have evolved greatly from the historical focus on incidents on the track or field of play, to dealing with broader integrity challenges. It is no longer just those incidents which occur during the course of play that are subject to disciplinary processes, and athletes are now increasingly subject to rules and standards outside the field of play for matters which can impact on the sport. This is driven by new challenges to sports integrity, such as massive legal and illegal betting, sponsorship that involves often complex (and sometimes opaque) commercial interests that may be above the interests of the sport as well as competitors, and criminal threats (often related to betting) that can impact the highest levels of racing and other sports.
Racing and other sports bodies and regulators of sports have sought recognition of the specificity aspect of sport which has supported the disciplinary structure in place to deal with offences that may occur, from race riding offences to doping matters and also administrative breaches. The recognition of the specificity of sport and of the structures put in place by sports governing bodies to deal with matters in a timely and effective manner has assisted in permitting governing bodies to continue to deal with matters directly and not being frustrated by recourse to judicial proceedings.
While the evolution of the racing and other sports industry has created benefits through increased professionalism and commercial revenue, there have also been negative aspects, including the increasing interest of criminal elements in sports.
Historically competition manipulation or attempts to control the outcome of a result of a sporting event would have been seen as specific to sport. An attempt by one party to ensure a specific result or that their favoured team/athlete would succeed. However, the growth of sports betting has greatly changed the landscape within which sports bodies and participants are operating. Illegal betting markets have flourished and in both the illegal and legal markets there are increased efforts to “beat the house” by controlling the result. The number of options available to those wishing to bet has increased exponentially. These include not only to bet on the outcome of a sporting event but on specific incidents within the event, such as the first corner awarded, number of yellow cards issued within a match and many other variables depending on the nature of the sport. The ability to bet on specific events like this has created opportunities for people to try and manipulate the betting markets or to seek to do so in order to guarantee a return. Even before the globalisation of betting markets, organised crime groups had identified illegal betting as a means of generating profits to fund other activities with a limited risk of detection, especially when operating over multiple jurisdictions. Legal and illegal betting markets can assist with the laundering of money especially if the risk can be reduced by fixing the result.
So when integrity issues extend beyond racing and other sports, how can governing bodies effectively regulate their sport? Under sports rules the sanctions are, generally, imposed on those participating in the sport and subject to the rules. If external actors are seeking to negatively impact sporting events in order to control the betting markets to their benefit how can they be dealt with under the sports rules? Suspensions are ineffective, and fines cannot be enforced and may appear trivial against the potential profits from match fixing. The outcome is that those participants found to have breached the rules and who may have been operating under the influence or duress of organised criminal groups are sanctioned and those who orchestrated the breach of the rules can continue to operate with impunity. Education of athletes and those involved in sport has been a huge tool in the fight against match fixing but it is not sufficient. It is only with sporting bodies and law enforcement agencies working together is there a hope of tackling this effectively.
Sports bodies and law enforcement agencies both nationally and internationally have recognised the challenges facing sports bodies and how by tackling these issues collectively can limit criminal groups ability to profit from sports. In 2007, INTERPOL launched Operation SOGA to target illegal betting and money laundering around major international soccer events and this has now reached its ninth iteration, continuing to identify illegal betting and money laundering operations and shutting them down as well as seizing assets and bringing charges.
In 2013, the Victoria Police in Australia recognised the threat of infiltration of sports by organised crime groups and consequently created the Sporting Integrity Intelligence Unit (SIIU), the first police unit of its kind to have a dedicated focus on sports integrity. The SIIU was driven by then Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton, now retired from policing and a member of the ARF Council.
Going back still further in time, the Hong Kong Jockey Club has had a long standing close working partnership with the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) to jointly combat organised criminal corruption to prevent it from undermining horse racing integrity. The Hong Kong Jockey Club makes a commitment to report all cases involving suspected bribery and corruption to the ICAC, which acts as a deterrent against corruptors of racing.
There is a greater level of awareness of the roles that racing and other sports governing authorities can play in dealing with these issues with more communication and cooperation at an international and national level but more can always be done to strengthen and develop these relationships so that action can be effective.
While in many countries legislation may not adequately address the issues being faced by sports, there are increasing efforts by statutory authorities to work with sports to find solutions. It has been an educative process for both sports bodies and statutory authorities. Sports have had to understand that the integrity issues they are facing are not just restricted to their sport and its participants. Acknowledging that organised crime groups have identified sports as a source of revenue and can operate internationally has been a challenge for many sports bodies. Law enforcement agencies have had to learn about sport, how it works and how it can be targeted by criminal groups. The speed that sport disciplinary processes usually work can be a challenge for policing authorities.
Racing and other sports bodies,often with the support of the specific integrity units created by the international federations, are better placed to identify issues, gather information and liaise with the relevant authorities. This does not preclude them from dealing with disciplinary matters within their own structures but it also means that those outside the sport seeking to use it for nefarious means may also be dealt with or at least deterred due to the knowledge that the authorities are cooperating. Recently in Ireland we have seen the Gardai (the national police) carry out raids and arrests following an investigation into match fixing in the League of Ireland, an investigation that was referred by UEFA in 2019following concerns regarding irregular betting practices on a number of Leagueof Ireland games.
Cooperation between all relevant racing and other sports with law enforcement authorities is essential to mitigate the damage that can be done to integrity. The statutory powers of the police and other law enforcement agencies in relation to evidence and investigation are often essential in dealing with match-fixing. With the growing recognition of how criminal groups can use racing and other sports for their own means and what the revenue generated through illegal betting and/or match fixing (as an overall term for integrity challenges) may be used for (including the funding of drugs, arms and human trafficking) there is increased willingness to confront those involved.
However, at the foundation of this is the work done by racing and other sports authorities to enforce their rules, recognise where issues are arising and to investigate them fully. Not all investigations result in disciplinary sanction but if racing and other sports are properly regulated they become less attractive to those who may seek to abuse them.
There is also a need to ensure a clear identification of roles between racing and other sports bodies and law enforcement agencies. While racing and other sports bodies can be perceived by administrators as being all-powerful in enforcing their rules, there are limits to those powers and those limits must be respected. Notwithstanding the establishment of the integrity units, racing and other sports bodies are limited to their sports domain and do not have the powers or resources to effectively deal with many issues that arise in integrity investigations. It is only with collaboration with law enforcement agencies that protecting the integrity of racing and other sports can be durable.
 Conor Lally, ‘Gardaí to press for criminal charges in League of Ireland match-fixing investigation’, The Irish Times, 18 January 2023 (https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/2023/01/18/gardai-to-press-for-criminal-charges-in-league-of-ireland-match-fixing-probe/)