Preaching the need for vigilance
Paul Scotney reckons gambling corruption is a huge threat to the fabric of sporting life, writes John O'Brien
A couple of weeks back Paul Scotney attended a conference in Dublin at which an Irish government official delivered a typically long and meandering speech about sport. After what seemed like an age, treading well-trampled ground about sport and the vital role it had to play at the heart of society, the official finally hit on a subject close to Scotney's heart and his ears perked up: integrity.
And it wasn't as if he found anything particularly objectionable in what the official was saying. It was more what remained unsaid that caught his attention. An error of omission he had heard countless times on his travels and on occasions like these, a casual assumption that when it came to the integrity of sport only one thing seemed to matter and that was doping. To Scotney, that missed the glaring elephant in the room. Not a huge, Savannah-roaming beast, perhaps. But a significant presence nonetheless.
"I listened very carefully when he moved on to integrity," Scotney says. "He talked about doping, how bad it was, how we needed to remain vigilant about it, and this, that and the other. He never once mentioned betting. I think that's the mindset people have about corruption over here. Because the likely threat to sport won't come from here. It'll come from another country betting on your football or whatever."
It is Scotney's belief that the threat to the integrity of sport from corrupt betting practices is something the governing bodies don't take seriously enough here. He works as a consultant, offering his services to various sports on how to tackle the problem, criss-crossing the globe to speak to administrators and government officials, helping to spread awareness of an issue that can often struggle to capture column inches and wider public awareness.
He knows we've had our issues here. Not sweeping, world-headline-grabbing incidents, just sporadic little firebombs that suggest a need for increased vigilance. These add up.
The message Scotney tries to impart is that betting corruption doesn't have to involve gangs of hardened criminals seeking to launder their ill-gotten gains. It's the footballer trying to augment his wages by betting on his own team when he's not supposed to. The snooker player tempted to throw the odd frame here or there. The rugby player casting his eye over tantalising odds. Small, surreptitious things with adverse consequences far outweighing the crime.
"The highest level of threat in this country is people in the sport trying to make a few quid," he says. "I don't think it's criminal. I don't think it's the Asian markets. I think it's people within the sports themselves. Just trying to make a few thousand, or just a few hundred even. But the few hundred. That's tens of thousands of damage in terms of image, isn't it?" We've had our doping issues too, of course. Scotney isn't inclined to be drawn into the argument over which scourge presents the greatest challenge to the fabric of sport. One easy distinction to make, though, is
that while doping is almost exclusively about enhancing performance, betting corruption is more concerned with losing. It is also, Scotney attests, a tougher area for authorities to get a handle on.
"Without any doubt betting is harder to police. Doping is an exact science, isn't it? You either test positive or you don't. In most cases, it's strict liability. And most governments put money towards it.
"There's an international body that oversees it. So in terms of doping you've got almost everything you need. Whereas with betting it's about forensic analysis of betting records, phone records and so on. There's no international body behind corruption."
So he sees a country like Ireland, occasionally beset by allegations of illegal betting activity, but with no established framework or mechanism to deal with it. A clearly laid-out strategy is needed. "The ideal structure would be to have something at the centre that can manage it," he says. "Because it's as bad if not worse than doping and yet there's no structure to deal with it."
The naive view to take, he thinks, is that because Ireland is small and lacks an extensive professional sporting network, corruption is unlikely to be widespread here. That betting scandals and the endemic corruption associated with them belong to places like Pakistan and the Far East and the nefarious forces that patrol the margins of big-money sports like cricket and football.
"Well, if it isn't a major issue, then let's do something about it before it becomes one," he says. "I remember tennis saying a few years ago they didn't have a problem. For them it wasn't an issue. There's betting on it, but it isn't a problem. Then a massive issue turns up involving a game between [Nikolay] Davydenko and another player."
Scotney speaks with an authority gleamed from a decade working at the coalface of British horse racing, as director of integrity services for the British Horseracing Authority, a position he left late last year, although his services are still retained as a consultant. He joined the BHA in 2003 after 27 years in the police force, figuring he needed a change and jumping at the chance to work in a sport that had enthralled him as a kid growing up a short gallop from the racing town of Newmarket.
At the BHA he sensed interesting times lay ahead. In 2002, he remembers watching the infamous Panorama exposé on corruption in British horse racing and thinking 'blimey'. The programme had alleged that British racing was "institutionally" corrupt, a claim that was subsequently dismissed, but that the sport had deep problems was clear. And, suddenly, there was Scotney at the heart of trying to resolve them.
He's wary of treading that old ground now. While his decade at the BHA incorporated huge changes in how they policed the sport and led to charges being brought against increasing numbers of owners, trainers and jockeys, people tended to get fixated with what he calls the 'F' word, the case taken against Kieren Fallon by the City of London police that broke down spectacularly towards the end of 2007.
He says he's moved on now, but it is clear that some frustration remains. He wasn't long in his new role when he was alerted to suspicious betting activities of Miles Rodgers, an owner and gambler from the north of England, and, suspecting criminal activity, he took the information to the police. From there it became a police matter, out of Scotney's and the BHA's hands. Yet when the trial collapsed, he found himself in the firing line.
What matters now, he thinks, is the valuable lessons they learned from the experience. If securing criminal convictions against those charged with betting corruption was going to prove such an onerous task, then maybe they would have to find a better way. The sports themselves would have to take the lead. He has seen this happen most efficiently in Australia where, through government prompting, the various sports are being encouraged to establish integrity units.
"The reality is it's a joint enterprise," he says, "between government, sports and the betting operators. Those three need to work together to deal with it. And in 2003 in racing none of those were working together. When we went to the police, they worked on their own. We worked on our own. And the betting industry worked on their own."
In his time in racing he witnessed staggering change. Before he joined, the BHA had signed a memorandum
of understanding with the betting exchange, Betfair, then just a couple of years on the go. Then he started negotiating with the traditional bookmaking firms and, one by one, they came on board. Where historically the betting firms had zealously guarded information, now they were willing to share. For trainers and jockeys, access to betting and phone records became a condition of licence. The cheats became easier to expose. The problem for other sports trying to replicate that model, though, is cost. Scotney sees a moral issue here for the betting firms to grapple with. A more fundamental issue than whether they should be paying for the rights to offer odds on sporting events, as tends to be the norm with racing.
"They should be paying towards the integrity costs of using those products," he says. "Because without that betting, you wouldn't have betting-related corruption. Whatever anyone from the betting industry tells you, if you didn't have betting on it, you wouldn't have betting-related corruption. So betting needs to contribute, the sports need to contribute. And you'd expect the government to contribute. Why would government contribute to doping, but not to betting? It's a tripartite. That's how I would see it."
As with doping, Scotney imagines the fight against betting corruption will likely never end, but it is being fought more efficiently all the time. He says he doesn't miss his time in racing, it was time to move on, work with other sports, but he looks back proudly on what they achieved while he was there, the cases they took, the bottom-line message they were keen to send out. "If there are people cheating," he says firmly, "they're going to be caught."