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You’d be hard pressed to visit a large Canadian city these days and not see a billboard for sports gambling. Maybe you’ve noticed a similar trend while watching TV, of athletes and celebrities telling us not only which sports books to use, but how easy it is to bet on games across different sports and leagues. If it seems like these ads popped up overnight, they kind of did!

It’s been less than 2 years since Bill C-218, an Act to amend the Criminal Code (regarding sports betting) became law, paving the way for provincial and territorial governments to regulate single-event sport betting, and providing consumer protections and increased economic opportunities.

Betting operators were up and running quickly, and the numbers tell us that Canadians have enthusiastically taken to this new way of gambling on sport. iGamingOntario reported that total wagers in Q4 of 2022 were $13.9 billion, which brought the total wagers for the year to $35.5 billion and $1.4 billion total gaming revenue (dollar amounts represent a combination of sports betting and casino play). During the same timeframe, just over 1 million player accounts were active, and 1.65 million accounts were active over the course of the year. For reference, Ontario’s population is just shy of 15 million.

For betting operators and gaming websites, this is all good news, over a million Ontarians are placing bets and revenue is high. But with more betting comes the increased likelihood of competition manipulation and other threats to sport integrity. Several sport integrity services are in the business of monitoring suspicious activity around online betting, watching for “suspicious matches.” Why is this important? Because a “suspicious match” indicates that a betting irregularity was detected and there’s potential that the match, or an element of it, was manipulated. In plain language, it means that someone involved with a game, match, or race did something contrary to the rules to affect its outcome. That someone could be an athlete, support personnel or an official. 

In 2022, Sportradar Integrity Services saw a huge jump in suspicious matches. According to their annual review of data gathered by their Universal Fraud Detection System, Betting Corruption and Match-Fixing in 2022, they detected a 34% increase in suspicious matches from 2021. In total, 1,212 suspicious matches were detected in 92 countries on five continents, and across 12 sports.

On home soil

The bulk of these suspicious matches were detected in Europe, Asia and South America, but Canada is not immune to competition manipulation. We have a cautionary tale of our own. In 2016, an investigation found that over 40% of Canadian Soccer League (CSL) matches had been manipulated. The semi-pro players were receiving nominal compensation to supplement their day jobs and, as a result, they were targeted to fix games that were broadcast in Asia and were bet on primarily in unregulated Asian betting markets.

According to Interpol, over $100 million was bet on CSL matches over a 3-year period and every club in the league was involved. Canada Soccer (formerly the Canadian Soccer Association) cut ties with the league.

No league, match, or competition is too small for match fixers. In fact, small-scale competitions, contested by poorly compensated athletes, are the most susceptible to competition manipulation.

Pilot project and competition manipulation policy template

When considering these developments (the legislative change, billions in revenue, and the reports on the suspicious matches) as a complete package, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) sees competition manipulation as a very real threat to the integrity of sport and athlete safety. If sports fans start to think the results of games have been manipulated and are predetermined, they’ll lose faith and eventually tune out. If athletes are accepting gifts and favours in exchange for throwing a match or sharing information about their team, they risk their personal safety and retribution from match fixers if things don’t go as planned. Neither of these outcomes are good for athletes or sport at large.   

To address another major threat to sport integrity, the CCES administers the Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP), a national program to detect and deter doping that incorporates international best practices, including an extensive education program. With this model in mind, the CCES partnered with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) on a pilot project to combat competition manipulation that features a template policy for national sport organizations (NSOs). To date, five participating NSOs have implemented a customized Competition Manipulation Policy that is consistent with the Olympic Movement Code on the Prevention of the Manipulation of Competitions (IOC Code).

To support the policy, the CCES rolled out an e-learning course called Understanding Competition Manipulation that explains the basics, including who’s involved, what’s at risk, and how to recognize if you’ve been targeted for a manipulation scheme. This course is available to anyone and has been completed more than 20,000 times!

Reporting competition manipulation

A policy without a method for reporting wrongdoing or enforcement has little value, so every organization in the pilot project must provide a mechanism for athletes and members to report competition manipulation. In early 2023, the CCES Integrity Hotline launched to provide a means for secure and confidential reporting of both doping and competition manipulation, which NSOs in the pilot project were invited to use. The hotline is managed by the CCES’s intelligence team, who can use reports to start investigations when warranted.

While new to the competition manipulation game, the hotline (formerly known as Report Doping) is a proven tool in the fight against doping. In fiscal 2022, it received 91 tips, 5 of which led to anti-doping rule violations, and there’s already been reporting activity on the competition manipulation side as well.

What comes next?

From a global perspective, Canada is playing catch-up on this issue. The CCES is focused on learning new approaches and best practices from government organizations, international sport federations, and sport integrity experts who are actively addressing competition manipulation.

Representatives from many of these organizations and more will be at the 2023 Symposium on Competition Manipulation and Gambling in Sport, May 30-31 in Toronto, Ontario. The CCES and McLaren Global Sport Solutions, with support from the COC, are co-hosting the symposium. The goal of the event is to develop a common way forward that will protect sport and benefit the gaming industry, and to develop a comprehensive national program for all national and multi-sport organizations.

Follow @EthicsinSPORT in sport for more information.

About the Author(s)

Megan Cumming is the Corporate Communications Manager with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). She has held many roles with the CCES and has a passion for amateur sport, from grassroots to high-performance.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.