Expert: Canadian Match-Fixing Scandal Still Looms Large

Written By Dave Briggs on November 8, 2022 - Last Updated on November 14, 2022
Jeremy Luke says the lack of legislation preventing match-fixing puts Canadian athletes, coaches, officials, sports administrators and bettors at risk.

Long before Ontario online sportsbooks and casinos launched in April, sport ethics expert Jeremy Luke warned Canada was woefully ill-prepared to prevent a sports betting scandal.

Flash forward nine months, and the senior director of sport integrity at the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport said not much has changed.

There is still no legislation addressing competition manipulation — also known as match-fixing — in this country. That puts athletes, coaches, officials, sports administrators and bettors at risk, Luke told PlayCanada.

“The big thing would just be the increase in the volume of gambling that will take place on sport and with that comes an increase in the possibility of manipulating the outcomes of competitions or parts of competitions.”

Today, there are 39 legal, regulated online gaming operators now live in Ontario and many more to come. Other provinces are beginning to follow Ontario’s lead — albeit slowly. That increases the probability of competition manipulation nationwide.

Who — and what — is at risk of competition manipulation

Well-paid professional athletes, coaches and support staff are not at the highest risk. Those most susceptible are those who struggle to generate income from sports, Luke said.

“The higher risk sports are certainly ones that are at a lower level, where athletes are being paid, but they don’t have the same kind of compensation that might exist for higher level athletes, and that’s a major risk factor,” Luke said.

It is important to note that competition manipulation does not mean throwing entire matches, Luke said. With wagers on player props, manipulation could revolve around something as simple as paying an athlete to double fault in tennis to impact the outcome of a bet.

Also, it’s important not to forget the impact of competition manipulation on sports bettors.

“It’s really important that those people who engage in betting take the time to try and make sure that whatever platforms they are using… see the value in effective competition manipulation strategies around education and policy and legislation.

“At the end of the day, we want sport with integrity and we want safety for athletes and people who do enjoy sports betting want to make sure that the competitions we are betting on are fair.”

Feds dropped the ball on Canada online sportsbooks

Luke (above) said Canada only went part-way in 2021 when Bill C-218 amended the Criminal Code to legalize single-event sports betting. The legislation ushered in Canada online sportsbooks but did not “put in place measures to protect the safety of athletes from the risk of competition manipulation,” he said.

Fortunately, a solution doesn’t need to involve pushing through new legislation from scratch. Luke said Canada could simply sign on to the Council of Europe Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions. Also known as the Macolin Convention, it came into effect in 2019. Thirty-nine European nations, along with Australia and Morocco, have signed it.

Luke said signing on to the Macolin Convention would “ensure that all the provinces are in line with the way that they’re regulating this and ensure that the betting operators are doing the same and that there are processes to be able to relay information if there are concerns back into the sports sector. And that’s really the piece that’s missing, and the piece that I think is most concerning as we try to move this forward.

“The benefit of it is it sets out an approach that deals with competition manipulation within a country so that there’s cooperation among sport, there’s cooperation among big gaming industry, betting operators and regulators. There’s cooperation on law enforcement, and then there’s legislation as might be needed in order to define what this issue is and what the consequences are that could flow from that. So that’s something that we have been promoting. It was something we brought forward at the time that the federal government was looking to amend the Criminal Code on this issue, and it’s something we continue to advocate for now. But it has not gained traction.”

Awareness of the issue is growing, CCES is doing its part

That said, awareness of the issue of competition manipulation has grown, Luke said. He attributes that, in part, to “the volume of advertising and promotion of sports betting that has increased significantly,” particularly in Ontario.

“People are becoming more aware of just sports betting in and of itself. But with that has also increased a desire to know more about competition manipulation. And wanting to make sure that athletes and other individuals are aware of the risks. So I’d say that’s kind of been driving the level of awareness of this issue. There is a desire to know more about sport betting… and what it means for sport organizations in Canada.”

In July, the CCES announced a pilot project to “help national sport organizations effectively manage the threat of competition manipulation.”

Luke said the idea came from a working group with the Canadian Olympic Committee and a number of sports organizations. The goal was to develop a template policy on competition manipulation.

“We quickly realized that most sport organizations, at that time, didn’t have a comprehensive policy that deals with this issue… So the goal of the working group was to develop that and to ensure as we developed that it would be consistent with the International Olympic Committee’s code on the prevention of competition manipulation, which is important because they require National Olympic Committees to have that type of policy in place.”

Six national sports organizations have signed on

CCES has partnered with the following six sports organizations on the pilot project:

  • Badminton Canada
  • Canada Basketball
  • Canada Soccer
  • Curling Canada
  • Racquetball Canada
  • Squash Canada.

“The organizations that are part of the pilot pilot project certainly are actively involved and want to be involved. There are other sport organizations that have started to reach out. They want to understand the issue and to do more. So I think that is a very positive sign,” Luke said.

“The province of Ontario through the AGCO (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario) has, from our perspective, been very helpful. They have reached out, wanting to understand how we can partner.

“The Canadian Gaming Association has also been very, very helpful as far as wanting to connect. They want to make sure that the integrity of sport is protected and the safety of athletes are protected. So those are all really positive outcomes as we continue to try and push this forward.”

Learn more by accessing the CCES learning portal

The CCES has also launched an online learning portal to increase awareness and education on the topic.

“I’d say (competition manipulation) is certainly not as commonly understood as the issue of doping in sport as an example,” Luke said. “So we wanted to have some resources available for athletes and support personnel and administrators on the issue itself. We created a learning tool… a generic one… and made it available to support organizations.

“We’ve had over 15,000 people go through that course, and that’s non mandatory. It’s just simply on our website and available for people. So the uptake has been really positive. And then as part of the pilot project, there’s another piece to this e-learning tool. It will be more specific to the policy itself. That’s where organizations are adopting, and then that will become mandatory for sport organizations who implement the policy.”

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Dave Briggs

Dave Briggs is a managing editor and writer for Catena Media. His expertise is covering the gambling industry in North America with emphasis on the casino, sports betting, horse racing and poker sectors. He is currently reporting on the gaming industries in Canada and Illinois.

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