The root causes of match-fixing are often attributed to sports’ growing relationships with betting and the involvement of criminal organisations.
But this neglects one, much simpler factor.
For a match-fixer to succeed, they need access to a participant. Players, referees, coaches and officials are among the ‘insiders’ preyed on by fixers to impact the outcome of an event or garner information that isn’t otherwise available.
Shutting down that access is easier said than done, as too many athletes and other insiders are naïve about the value of the information they hold and oblivious to any potential wrongdoing.
By failing to effectively define, communicate and enforce what insider information is, sports are keeping the oxygen supply of match-fixing flowing.
Match-fixing’s hidden threat
Contrary to public perception, match-fixing scandals don’t all start with illicit meetings between criminal organisations and players looking to make easy money. At the lower levels of sport – where access to players and officials is easier and wagers are lower – extracting valuable intelligence can be as simple as approaching a coach with seemingly harmless questions about a player’s form, injury status or personal circumstances.
While these questions may seem innocent, participants sharing information with the wrong individual can step through a gateway into a vicious cycle of betting-related corruption. Criminals can use this initial information as leverage, demanding a player takes the money and provides a continuous flow of insider knowledge or risk being reported to the authorities or having their family threatened.
Do more than define
Tackling the threat of insider information begins with defining the problem. Many sports will have a definition in their rules and regulations, but it is vital that policies remain up-to-date within a rapidly evolving betting landscape.
And in reality, the definition is the easy bit. The key lies in sports communicating and enforcing their rules. Just as many financial brokerage firms educate their employees on the risks and consequences of insider trading, so sports must proactively ensure their participants understand the potential threats they face, going far beyond explaining what match-fixing is and why it is bad.
If a player isn’t aware of the type of information that may influence a betting market, how can they know not to put themselves at risk? And if a coach isn’t sure of the systems in place to report an approach for information, how can a sport be certain it has visibility over these threats?
Face-to-face workshops and e-Learning modules, like those deployed by the PGA Tour in partnership with Genius Sports, are invaluable for all sports in demonstrating the rules they have put in place and the potential consequences insider information poses.
If a sport has effectively communicated its rules and regulations, they are also in a much stronger position to enforce sanctions that adequately reflect the severity of the threat.
Proving incidents of insider information is far simpler than full-scale match-fixing. And often sports will use insider information charges to strengthen their case against offenders to throw them out of their competitions.
Sanctions must be strong enough to deter participants from – knowingly or not – engaging with any form of betting-related corruption.
If sports can get their strategy against insider information right, this match-fixer’s lifeline might begin to close.