As sports betting prepares to take off, the CEO of the Sport Integrity Global Alliance is leading an effort to safeguard competition on the field

T

he recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for legalized sports wagering will have profound impacts on the sports industry in the United States. Among the many concerns as sports organizations, betting regulators and host cities navigate the new landscape is how to protect the integrity of the competition on the field, which may be ripe for corruption or match-fixing when more money is at stake on the game. Leagues have also expressed an interest in collecting an “integrity fee”—a portion of the bets placed to help them monitor these issues—which has its own challenges.

Fortunately, the Geneva-based Sport Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) has been tackling those issues for some time in an effort to provide standards that all stakeholders should meet to keep the competition clean. Leading the charge is Emanuel Macedo de Medeiros, who was elected CEO of SIGA in January after spearheading the group’s development since 2015. His background in sports is deep. After representing several national and international sports organizations as an attorney, he spent six years as secretary general of the Portuguese Football League. He then co-founded and spent 10 years as CEO of the Association of European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL). In 2012, he was elected CEO of the World League Association, which he helped create. Medeiros has also served on several UEFA and FIFA committees to tackle issues of integrity.

In this interview, Medeiros discusses the road ahead, concerns that event organizers should have and why SIGA’s work is making a difference.

For those not familiar with its origins, why was SIGA formed and what are its main objectives?

This was an idea that was populating in my mind for quite some time. In my case, given my role in the professional football industry in Europe as the CEO of the World League Association, I realized that there were challenges and threats of a global dimension, and they required a global response, concerted action and strong leadership. The current structures were no longer serving that purpose. We felt that the sporting industry truly required an independent organization based on a public-private partnership that would bring together all the key sectors of the sporting industry—the governments, international organizations, the global businesses (including the sponsors, the media, the financial industry services) and of course the civil society, the NGOs, the universities. That helped to shape SIGA as it is today.

SIGA was set up to deliver global leadership and ensure through an independent, neutral approach that global problems would be met with global solutions. Those solutions led us to design a set of universal standards on four core areas, which are good governance, financial integrity, sports-betting integrity and youth development and child protection.

How are you implementing those standards for the industry?

To stimulate sports organizations to enhance their own governance and operations, we designed and are now implementing the SIGA Independent Rating and Verification System, otherwise known as “SIRVS.” SIRVS will assess the state of each sports organization by comparison with our own universal standards. It’s a true independent rating system and will be operated by a third party to maintain neutrality. We recently launched the tender process for the third party and have received several tenders from high-profile organizations and the award will be announced on December 4, 2018, with the contract starting in January 2019. So from next year, if you are a big sponsor, if you are a big broadcaster and you invest your money in sports organizations, the first thing you can do is look to SIGA and examine where a sports organization is on that rating.

It seems like that could be a good tool before a sponsor or broadcaster makes a significant investment of time or money in a group whose integrity might be in question…

Precisely. We know that integrity is king in today’s world. As citizens and corporations are more vigilant about where to put their money, we need to come up with solutions that foster reforms and encourage sports organizations to do what is right. Many sports organizations were willing to do that to move forward but did not have the know-how. So we provide the know-how. We provide the tools and the solutions. But we also encourage them. The universal standards coupled with the SIGA rating system will provide a concrete psychologic tool that will confer a positive stimulus to the sports organizations to do what is right. And ultimately, as you were saying, the sponsor, the broadcasters—those that invest their money and their reputation in sport—will be guided and helped by a true independent, neutral objective rating system such as ours. This is unique. There is nothing else like it in the market. And this is precisely what we need because the dimensions of these challenges are colossal and they are global in nature. They cross borders and we cannot simply wait for governments who promise a lot but are slow in their pace and sometimes never deliver.

“As citizens and corporations are more vigilant about where to put their money, we need to come up with solutions that foster reforms and encourage sports organizations to do what is right.”

Let’s turn to what’s happening here in the United States because I think we’re due for a much larger discussion in the years to come on the integrity of sports. How closely were you following the U.S. Supreme Court case that opened the door to legalized sports wagering and what was your reaction when you heard the result?

Well, I was following attentively, and the result was not a surprise. I truly believe that a framework where regulations are put in place is far better than prohibition. Because in many countries I have witnessed around the world where prohibition was the rule, there have been multiple ways of circumventing those prohibitions. So it’s not just that the Supreme Court decision shifted the needle and that will resolve all the issues. On the contrary, there are real challenges. Sport needs to be prepared for that, and the U.S. sports-betting industry does as well. There must be a responsible discussion about the way forward where interests of both parties are taken into consideration so that the integrity of the game and the rights of the consumers and the public interest are truly taken into account.

What are the benefits of having a regulated sports-betting industry in the United States?

I think the advantage of a regulatory approach is it can offer effective ways to combat illegal betting and prevent sports-betting fraud. Another big advantage is consumer protection, including education addressed to all participants in the game: Athletes, coaches and managers, directors, everyone that plays an active role in sport. Some have already identified new income sources for sports organizations, which is also clear. So there are multiple benefits that can result from a regulatory approach, which is now being tried by a number of states. However, the discussion cannot be just focused on how much money this will generate—which is what I have sensed over the past few months—because there are concerns. One thing is certain and indisputable: without integrity there is no profitability.

An industry that wants to be self-sufficient and economically viable and explore new income streams in a lawful manner needs to guarantee at the outset the integrity of its own competitions. And that is not done by a proclamation in the media. That’s done by putting in place tools and measures that include adjusting sporting regulations and reaching a dialogue and agreements with the sports-betting operators about which types of bets can be offered. And if there is any financial return, then what are the terms? There needs to be training and education for all participants in the game. There needs to be effective measures against match-fixing and sports-betting manipulation. So there is a whole constellation of measures that are included in the SIGA Universal Standards on Sports-Betting Integrity that require urgent attention and immediate implementation.

It will be interesting to see how quickly some of the larger sports organizations in the United States start addressing some of these issues. Most of them inherently know they will need to address this issue but the bigger question is do they know where to begin?

Well, fortunately others have already done the job and have taken the lead. As you know, I was the CEO of all European soccer leagues and also the World League Association for a decade. During my mandate I put in place what we called the Football Betting Manifesto, which expressed the views of the leagues as far as sports betting was concerned. That was combined with two other documents, which include the code of conduct on sports-betting integrity that addressed the leagues, the directors, the managers, the players, etc., and what we called the sports-betting operator standards. Those were the requirements that we considered to be a must and had to be respected by the sports-betting operators. That implied a licensing system in the cases where the sports-betting market had been legally open so that everyone was following the law and the money that was coming into sport had legitimate origins and was transparent. There was a clear strategic direction from the European soccer leagues that were confronted with growing incidents of match manipulation and illegal betting and betting fraud especially since 2005, which was the first big scandal that hit the German football league.

“There must be a responsible discussion about the way forward where interests of both parties are taken into consideration so that the integrity of the game and the rights of the consumers and the public interest are truly taken into account.”

You mentioned potential new revenue streams earlier. Several U.S. professional and collegiate sports leagues have suggested they may seek an “integrity fee” from bets placed on their events to help them monitor potential wrong-doing. Is that a fair request?

I will say the following. As CEO of the Sport Integrity Global Alliance, I have no stake in what is a commercially driven discussion. My emphasis, my focus and my priority is to ensure that the integrity of the competitions and those who take part in them is properly safeguarded.

But I will not hide the fact that as CEO of the European Professional Football Leagues, my position and my view in this regard has been absolutely clear since the first time I addressed the problem, which was in 2002. The view of the leagues in this part of the world was that sports betting was based on certain content that was generated by the leagues, and those rights deserved to get protection and could be used—provided there was an agreement including a fair financial return to be reinvested back into the safeguarding and the protection of the integrity of sports competitions. Since many of the leagues in many sports do not have the financial means to put in place all these measures, there must be a funding mechanism. This position is shared by sports organizations.

I know this is not necessarily the case of the sports-betting operators. But in many cases, there have been arrangements between both parties and consensus was reached. In some cases this solution was enacted by law, such as in France or in Portugal in a more mitigated fashion, but the U.S. is a different territory, and I will leave this discussion to the parties who are directly involved. My job is to make sure that beyond the commercial components of this discussion, which are legitimate, emphasis is given to the integrity of the sport and those who participate in it.

Is it just human nature that as we see more opportunities for sports betting in the United States that there will be more threats to the integrity of the games on the field?

If we have the right policies and there is a concerted, coordinated effort by all the involved parties—not just the leagues but the clubs, the athletes, certainly the sports-betting operators and law enforcement—I think the risks can be considerably mitigated. Training and education are also an important part of the solution. So there needs to be a serious investment on that.

And, let me take a step back to remind you that just because you have a law that says betting is banned or prohibited that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t find people in university dorms placing bets on everything you can imagine. We need to understand that we live in a global village where new technologies offer endless opportunities, but also create new, emerging threats and challenges. So we need to think out of the box.

What sense of urgency should U.S. sports organizations have on these issues?

I think the sooner these matters are discussed and consensus is reached and global responses can be put in place to respond, the better it will be. Bets that are offered on U.S. competitions will not just be coming from U.S. territory. They will be coming from all over the world where the U.S. has no jurisdiction. And that is why we call upon all like-minded organizations to join us in this fight, to preserve the integrity of sport, to preserve and safeguard its reputation and more than anything to prevent threats that can stain the integrity of sports and everything that comes with it.