x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Police unit set up to monitor Asian betting syndicates for 2012 Olympics

Hugh Robertson, Britain's Olympics and sports minister, said attempts to fix the outcome of events posed a bigger threat to the Olympics than doping.

A special police unit will target illegal betting syndicates and attempts to bribe competitors at this year's London Olympic Games.

Concerns over the influence of illegal gambling organisations operating mainly on the Indian subcontinent have rocketed since the jailing last year of three Pakistani cricketers for accepting bribes during a Test match in 2010 in England.

The unit will be headed by Scotland Yard which, through Interpol, will look for signs of unusually heavy gambling on any particular sport by sifting through information gathered by police forces around the globe.

Hugh Robertson, Britain's Olympics and sports minister, said attempts to fix the outcome of events posed a bigger threat to the Olympics than doping.

"You cannot underestimate the threat this poses because the moment that spectators start to feel that what they are seeing is not a true contest, that is when spectators stop turning up and the whole thing turns to pieces," Mr Robertson told the Sunday Times.

"At some stage over the next two or three years, we will have some other sort of betting scandal in some sport. I just hope it's not at the Olympics.

"If you look at the most high-profile incident - the Pakistani cricketers at Lord's [cricket ground] - the issue is not of betting syndicates in this part of the world. It is illegal betting syndicates in the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere, where huge sums of money change hands."

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in London said the new unit, which will include agents from the Serious Organised Crime Agency, would set up an email "hotline" to enable people across the world to report any suspicious activity.

He added the unit would be able to "draw on information and intelligence from various sources, including the Gambling Commission, national Olympic commissions and Interpol, on any suspicious betting patterns or intelligence surrounding match fixing".

To enable the operation to work effectively, the government is likely to make changes to the UK gambling laws to ensure there are no legal barriers to information sharing between police and various agencies.

A police source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The National yesterday: "Nobody is expecting someone to try and bribe Usain Bolt into throwing the final of the 100 metres.

"The gambling industry, particularly on the subcontinent and in the Far East, is much more geared to spot betting, where you gamble on a specific incident happening at a certain time in a contest - a tennis player, for instance, serving two double faults in the third game of the second set, or something like that," the source said.

"These things can be almost impossible to pick up without good intelligence. I mean, there's little doubt that the Pakistani cricketers would have got away with it had it not been for the sting perpetrated on the fixer by the News of the World."

The News of the World, which closed after admitting it had hacked telephones to get news, exposed the players' agent as a match-fixer after an undercover reporter paid him to arrange for bowling style to change at certain times in a match.

"The new unit will require a great deal of international cooperation because scams could easily be arranged months before the Games begin in London this summer."

dsapsted@thenational.ae