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Betting’s impact on the Olympics? What about the Olympics’ impact on betting?

You don’t need to watch Rory Stewart poking fun at American Generals and European politicians to be wary of labelling anything a ‘decisive year’, but it’s difficult to think of 2012 as anything else if you’re sitting in DCMS. I can’t quite believe it is seven years since I was watching a television in Sydney while listening, over the telephone, to dad’s Singapore commentary as it was being broadcast in England, as London were awarded the Games.

Of the many things that will be interesting to see develop this year, one that intrigues me is how the balance of headlines is set to impact an old debate. What happens is likely to be influenced by government structure: in the last government, the Minister for Sport held the betting portfolio; but in this one, he doesn’t. Hugh Robertson has sport, and sport alone.

It is going to make for some difficult moments, I suspect, for the betting industry. First of those came on the first day of the year, when Hugh made a number of high-profile statements about betting – specifically related to integrity threats to the Olympics. Because it isn’t his job to engage with it, his knowledge of betting is bound to be limited – probably to ‘perception, plus a bit’. Sure enough, he was very much on message in recognising that the real threat comes from the illegal markets; but unfortunately, he then also added some of the half-baked rot that you often hear around but which has no basis in fact. I forget exactly what his wording was, because when he mentioned the dangers about people betting on short corners in hockey, my head was deep into the cushions of my sofa.

The big challenge for the betting industry’s lobby has for some time been to get people to understand the difference between betting integrity and sports integrity, and I suspect that this year it is going to be harder than ever to make their voice heard. The subject requires some real engagement beneath the headlines, and is too often cast as a battle of good against evil. Only last week, the news that William Hill has become a sponsor of the FA was immediately questioned, rather than welcomed: the reaction was whether the deal raised problems, when it might have been that it demonstrated the two organisations’ common interest.  You might have thought that money given to sport by any licensed, regulated, listed, significant British employer with a long-standing trading record should be nothing other than a cause to rejoice; but you’d have been wrong.

Of course, the “problems”, such as they are, are of perception; but the perception tends to be created by the very people asking the question in the first place.  The difficulty for the betting industry – generally, but particularly this year – is that most sports journalists, like the Sports Minister, spend much more time with people who are slower to recognise (as did former England batsman Robert Croft when he spoke on Radio 5 Live’s Fighting the Fixers in December) the extent to which responsibility that lies with the players, and they wouldn’t be human if that didn’t impact their thinking. This is why so many commentators and sports experts keep repeating, as part of the “internet betting is exploding and causing problems” debate, the old “time of first throw-in” chestnut which was only ever offered as a spread bet (not by an online bookie); hasn’t been offered since the mid 1990s (well before the arrival of the internet); and, unsurprisingly, was corrupted and profited from by… the players on the pitch – to the detriment of the spread companies, who promptly dropped it from their offering because they were being fleeced.

Just before Christmas, the man who does hold the gambling brief in government, wrote an article for Gambling Compliance which included this line: “Without a strong and factual base of independent, relevant and practical research, backed up by credible and trusted institutions, public debate will be overwhelmed by honestly-held but contradictory beliefs and preconceptions.” He was talking about problem gambling, in an article which focused mainly on consumer protection issues; but he might have used similar wording for the on-going debate about sport.

Honestly-held but contradictory beliefs will always compete with each other; but preconceptions from a side with a significant voice about another without one could tilt the balance of debate quite far and quite quickly. The structure of government is likely to add to that, along with the newsflow, in 2012. It will be interesting to see whether there is any lasting impact.

 

 

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2 Responses

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  1. 2fliesonawall says

    Agreed: speaking of half-baked rot that has no basis in fact…….the below reported in today’s press is in a similar depressing vein:

    And Chris Eaton, FIFA’S head of security, said: “We have no direct evidence there is criminal behaviour involving the higher level leagues in the UK — but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

    “Around £1billion was staked on the 2005 Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Liverpool.

    “I’m not saying we have any evidence it was fixed. But I know the minds of criminals — they look at this pot of cash and say “we want some of that, what’s it going to cost us?

    “I know criminals will be considering how to do it.”

  2. Thekick says

    I’m not sure the spread firms lost out on first throw ins. When the market moved low enough regular customers playing in the market bought thinking that the price they were seeing was value.

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