Without a doubt, the COVID19 global pandemic has impacted every country, industry and person. The world of sport is no different.
The cost of cancelled sporting events is unprecedented. Many prestigious and internationally renowned events have run for over a century, uninterrupted except for the World Wars.
This situation is different. Sports are facing an uncertain and precarious future. A sport without paying fans and athletes batting against an unknown virus is a combination of a knockout punch, an own net goal and trying to find a football in a dark stadium.
Understandably, major sports have spent the shut down focused on one thing and one thing only. Profitability by reopening.
The world of sport has, by all intent and purposes, missed an opportunity to focus on the most essential issue facing all of sport. The integrity of the game itself.
Sadly, integrity remains a moot point or a glossed over account of all is well in the game. It is not.
Organized crime, match-fixing, corruption, human trafficking and recruiting for violent extremism remain alive and well in sport. The very issues that affect the dark underside of sport remain very active when the average fan thinks sports are shut down.
Where there are opportunities to profit, crime syndicates will grow. If one sport shuts down, illegal betting and match-fixing will occur in other sports.
Ukraine table tennis is now one of the hottest sports betting line going. As is minor sports, rec league and anything that has a pulse. In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Fred Lord, Director, Anti Corruption at the International Center Sport Security stated that illegal betting and match-fixing was occurring at ghost games during the pandemic. Lord stated crime groups are targeting competitions still being played, including minor leagues and friendly matches. Criminals who don’t sleep will exploit the downtime to focus on recruiting future athletes and referees and take advantage of that when the game resumes. The point is, betting doesn’t stop because sports do. They simply find something else and manipulate that.
Canada recently announced it would gift $10,000 to $20,000 each to 23 deserving players ranked between 100 to 750 in the ATP or WTA singles rankings, 25-100 in doubles in the Top 100 ITF junior rankings or Top 50 IFT wheelchair rankings.
While this is to be commended, it was no doubt part of Canada’s generous multi-billion-dollar funding initiative that was first and foremost for allocating this grant.
Sadly, what went unacknowledged was the fact that given the massive pay discrepancies between top-ranked international tennis players and those barely making enough to earn a living at the bottom of the rankings exist a proven breeding ground for corruption and match-fixing.
COVID19 will not stop sports corruption. Last week, the Nevada Gaming Control Board (GCB) approved bets on four different esport series. Live sports not needed. Has match-fixing occurred? Bet on it.
Let us not forget sport was used in the United States in the college admission scandal. Sporting authorities surely knew that their new scholarship student couldn’t find the university pool, never mind swim.
Spanish Police continue to investigate match-fixing in friendly COVID matches. Whether it is a nudge, nudge wink, wink agreement for fun is not relevant. Once people bet on the game and win or lose money on the match, it turns into a criminal act.
When Mohammed Ali agreed to fight the Beatles, everyone new is was a staged publicity stunt. Had Paul McCartney suck punched Ali and knocked him out is a different story.
The United States has legalized sports gambling. Canada struggles to pass a bill for single-sport betting – if I cant bet on my one game legally, I will still bet- issue. The world is scattered. Organized Crime is called that for a reason. They are organized.
The business impact of sports shutting down is severe and unprecedented. The integrity of sport must be at the forefront of every sport as they struggle to resume. This is the perfect time to train referees, player and coaches; anyone associated with the game, in prevention and education of crime in sport. It is never too late.
The desire of sport, like society, to rush back into the game is not taking advantage of the situation to get it right.
The opportunity remains limited and the clock is running out. Here is hoping for a last-minute goal.