LONDON – Authorities hope to protect the integrity of the London Olympics by meeting daily to analyze possible suspicious betting patterns and assess if any athletes are deliberately underperforming for personal profit.
The International Olympic Committee has warned that betting and match-fixing could pose a bigger threat to sports than doping.
And with the Olympics five months away, Britain has disclosed plans to prevent sports in the country being further undermined by corruption after four cricketers were jailed in the past four months for fixing parts of matches.
The daily anti-corruption meetings will involve the IOC, Britain's Gambling Commission, police, the Border Agency and games organizers. They will report their findings to Interpol and the IOC.
"What is being put in place is a comprehensive structure of support to assess the extent of any undue movements in the market," British Olympic Association chairman Colin Moyinhan said Monday. "The betting exchanges will also be monitored closely as there is the possibility of betting to lose."
The illegal gambling industry is believed to be worth tens of billions of dollars annually, according to figures presented at an IOC conference this month.
"At the moment it is perfectly legal to spot bet on all sports, for example to make a spot bet on the first short corner in (field) hockey," Britain Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said at a briefing. "Up until this point, illegal betting has not been a huge problem at the Olympics. But it was difficult to monitor in Beijing, and this is a new threat and an evolving threat. The president of the IOC has identified it as a very serious threat. I think we are slightly waiting to see how this plays out in London 2012."
But even if suspicions are raised about athletes, authorities won't have the power to intervene to stop them from competing.
"An athlete won't be pulled prior to that event as nothing will have happened," Robertson said. "For example, if a pile of money has appeared on a particular outcome during the games, an offense has not been committed until it has actually happened."
The IOC monitored betting patterns during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 Vancouver Games, but found nothing irregular.
All competitors are banned from betting on any Olympic sport, and Moyinhan is confident that it is "unlikely to be a problem" for the 550 British athletes. But he cautioned that "$20,000 is a life-changing sum of money to an athlete from a developing country."
"He could come second in his heat and still qualify, but that could enable the person who was bribing that athlete to make $200,000 on the exchanges, which would be possible if the markets permitted that sort of return," Moyinhan said. "This is an issue that needs to be addressed in terms of the type of bet on offer and the sophistication of the market to take those bets."
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarrisUK