he Government’s panel, to be chaired by former Liverpool CEO Rick Parry, will address issues concerning the integrity of sport, with particular reference to the rise in new formats of sports betting.
Traditional bookmakers, betting exchanges, the police, supporters groups as well as officials from racing and football are represented on the panel, which will make recommendations to sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe in six months.
As previously disclosed by Telegraph Sport, the Government has concerns about the ability of the Gambling Commission to investigate allegations of match-fixing, and the new panel is intended to bolster the official response to the issue. The appointment of the panel comes as tennis authorities examine reports of suspicious betting patterns surrounding the first-round match between Jurgen Melzer and Wayne Odesnik last Tuesday.
Betting exchange Betfair alerted the ITF’s Tennis Integrity Unit to unusually large volumes being wagered on Melzer winning in straight sets, and bookmakers Paddy Power and Ladbrokes suspended betting before the match began.
Melzer went on to win in three sets and it emerged after the game that Odesnik had carried a muscle injury into the match. That information, if disseminated widely, would have been sufficient to prompt bets in Melzer’s favour, suggesting that this could be a case of punters profiting from having more information than the bookmakers.
Mark Davies, managing director of Betfair, said: “We have a memorandum of understanding with the Tennis Integrity Unit which allows them to see patterns of all the betting which takes place on our site and we alerted them to this. They can make a judgment whether there is something more sinister in this or whether it is just a question of people being aware of a player who was already significantly underrated carrying an injury that meant that he was likely to lose.”
The revelation comes a week after a match in Holland was the subject of an investigation, and it underlines the challenge tennis faces from its rise as a gambling medium – a problem World Number 2 Roger Federer is wary of. “We talk about it in the Player Council,” he said. “I think we should have massive bans on those who get caught.”
The panel will assess rules relating to sports betting, examine ways of improving communication of suspicious betting patterns between bookmakers and governing bodies, and delivering better education of athletes. They will also consider whether some bets should be forbidden.
The panel is certain to see some friction, with racing and football both pressing for bookmakers to make a financial contribution towards integrity issues in exchange for running markets on their sports. There is also tension between the traditional bookmaking industry and exchanges such as Betfair.