LONDON (Reuters) - Organisers are confident that they can prevent gangs behind illegal gambling from fixing events at the Olympics in London next month, a senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) figure said on Monday.
The jailing last year of three Pakistani cricketers in London and the latest match-fixing scandal to afflict Italian football have heightened alarm that corruption is undermining top level sport.
The Olympics are something of a paradox for bookmakers - the biggest event in the sporting calendar attracts a huge global TV audience but is a sideshow for most serious gamblers.
However, the IOC is taking no chances and is working closely with British authorities to ensure that fixing does not blight the London Games.
“Experts are telling us that the Olympics is not a primary target of match fixing because they are such a huge event, under such scrutiny, that it is a big risk to try to fix competition at the Olympic Games,” IOC Director General Christophe De Kepper told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“We treat this as a serious threat and we have taken measures to be ready in case anyone would want to fix competition at the Olympic Games,” the Belgian added.
Games athletes and officials are forbidden from betting on the Olympics. Britain’s licensed bookmakers have signed up to scrutinise activity during the July 27-August 12 Games and will channel their findings through the Gambling Commission, the industry regulator.
“We will report any suspicious betting. The IOC has set up a joint assessment unit for the duration of the Games,” said Bill South, a former police officer who is head of security for William Hill, Britain’s largest bookmaker.
“All the operators will have 24/7 reporting. We will suspend or void bets if necessary,” he told Reuters.
British bookmakers have said that betting on the Olympics is likely to be relatively small, comparing spending over the Games as a whole with what they take on a weekend of English Premier League football. That should making wrongdoing easier to detect.
“We would offer a market on any event but the chance of all events attracting a market is unlikely,” said South.
“Our trading team will make an assessment of what a potential market looks like. The smaller the market, then anything unusual is more likely to be apparent.”
Advances in technology have created rich new opportunities for those seeking to rig results or specific episodes in a contest - “spot fixing”.
More and more events can be beamed live into parts of the world like Asia where sports betting is often illegal and therefore unregulated.
Mobile technologies have also facilitated the growth of in-play betting where punters can bet on a event already under way, That is legal in itself but exposes sports players to the temptation of fixing seemingly trivial incidents.
De Kepper says that tackling fixing was more complex than the battle against doping - a scourge of international sport which the IOC has spent decades trying to combat.
“The financial impact, the means at stake behind illegal betting are far, far more important than in the criminal/doping network,” he said.
De Kepper said the IOC was not against betting itself, noting that many sports were funded by lottery or levies on gaming.
However, he said that the IOC needed help to eradicate the dangers posed by unlicensed bookmakers.
“That needs the cooperation of police, that needs governments to realise that this is threatening... the credibility people can have in organised sports,” he said.
“This is a public order question that many governments around the world at this stage have not realised,” he added.
Editing by Alison Wildey