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Wanted: world model for clean sports

A new study warns of a rising threat to the integrity of sports from gambling that leads to more fixed matches. While some countries keep sports safe from manipulation, a global approach is needed, much like the fight against doping.

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    Wilson Perumal of Singapore, convicted in Finland in 2011 for bribing soccer players in the Finnish league, has recently given invaluable details on international match-fixing and bribing in hundreds of games worldwide.
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A traveler to Asia these days might wonder why so many sports fans wear the jerseys and hats of teams in other parts of the world. A new study helps explain why.

More than half of illegal betting on sports takes place in Asia. And a substantial number of games in the region are rigged by match fixing. Local fans are fed up. They have turned to global TV or the Internet to watch games in countries that still guard the integrity of sports with tight rules over gambling on games.

Fortunately, close to half of the world’s countries still prohibit sports gambling, according to the study, which was released Thursday by the Qatar-based International Center for Sport Security (ICSS) and Sorbonne University in Paris. Many of those countries serve as models in the struggle against the rapid expansion of illegal sports betting.

Organized crime now uses sports betting to launder $140 billion each year, according to the report, or about 10 percent of its total money laundering. Last year, hundreds and perhaps thousands of games, mainly in cricket and soccer, were rigged by criminals manipulating players or entire teams in order to maximize their winnings.

The problem has grown because the number of international or global sporting events has tripled to more than 1,000 since the 1970s. And along with that has risen the transnational business in digital sports betting – estimated at $300 billion to $750 billion. Much of it remains hidden. Some 80 percent is illegal and invisible to regulators, the report finds.

The problem is akin to doping in sports, but perhaps even more damaging. Yet the fight against sports betting does not yet have the regulatory equivalent of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which was set up after massive doping was discovered during the Tour de France in 1998.

The report, which is titled “Protecting the Integrity of Sport Competition,” gives an example of how global – and difficult – the problem is:

“A Japan-based bettor can bet through a sports betting website based in Malta (which is considered illegal in Japan), on the number of corners in a Brazilian championship football [soccer] match.”

The world needs a “sports police” and an international agreement on manipulation of sports, the study recommends, in order to save the principles of fair play and equity in sports. “If we do nothing, sports will come to be seen as an arena of corruption,” says Mohammed Hanzab, president of the ICSS.

Those countries that have recognized the danger of sports gambling “have obtained significant results,” the study concludes. But the transnational nature of sports betting needs a global approach. Just look at the sports paraphernalia being worn by Asian fans.

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