Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Time to get real on cheating: bring on a Sports Interpol

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Fans watch a tennis match at Wimbledon. Photo / AP
Fans watch a tennis match at Wimbledon. Photo / AP

There is an inherent conflict of interest when sports spy on themselves. Sports bodies need to park up their old squad cars, ditch the walkie-talkie radios and join the modern world of detection.

It's time for sport to get real and get desperate, which means it might consider handing over the direction of detection to an extremely well-funded international agency that could oversee, co-ordinate and lead the fight against fraudsters.

A sports version of Interpol is what I'm proposing here, one that brings more sophistication, intelligence and energy to the sports which do have so-called integrity units, maybe introduce the concept to those who operate without a policing force, and even pokes its nose into sports that might resist.

In-house sports detectives are being made to look like PC Plod by the endless parade of scandals on their beats, the latest of which are the believable claims that match and spot fixing are undermining tennis.

Too many players have revealed approaches to fix games to believe that others haven't done so without being caught.

Once again, in the latest case, boffin sleuths from the media world - this time an algorithm-wielding outfit called Buzzfeed News which matched betting trends to tennis results - look more resourceful than those charged with cracking down on match fixing. The previous sports scandal, the IAAF/Russian doping affair, also involved a lone journalist showing one of the biggest outfits in world sport what needed to be done.

It is time to at least consider forming a Sports Interpol, where an extremely well-funded detection agency can start tracking the crooks in a sophisticated way rather than twirling a truncheon around and blowing an ineffective whistle while the rest of us look at them with suspicion. There is an inherent conflict of interest when sports spy on themselves.

I first started thinking about the Sports Interpol idea during the Chris Cairns trial on perjury charges in England last year. As the trial unfolded, you had to wonder if it should have unfolded at all, because of what passed for evidence - a load of often unimpressive conversation recall and innuendo quite frankly - might have been okay in the 1950s but it was nonsense in these days of digital/electronic trails. Cairns was duly and rightly acquitted, but his life is in ruins. My view is that the British prosecution service had no right to put someone's reputation on the line if that's all they had to offer.

The BBC/Buzzfeed investigation into tennis showed what clever analysis of data can unveil, even if it is only a starting point from which the proper detection begins.

I doubt if many people knew tennis even had an integrity unit, but it turns out it has, a reportedly five-person operation which has brought a few cheaters down. But it has also left a lot of problems unattended.

The bottom line is this: whether it be athletics, cricket, tennis or whatever, there are too many pitfalls when the sports themselves are in control of their own investigative (and dope-testing) units. Not only would a world sporting Interpol build up expertise in this specific area of detection, but it could co-ordinate across the various sports, authorities and agencies such as bookmakers in the various countries, and form a smart relationship with Interpol itself.

It would not be put off by superstar reputations, and could be the reliable go-to place for whistleblowers.

From what I can gather, the only time something like this was set up came via a 10-year arrangement between Interpol and Fifa, signed in 2011, which was designed to root out match fixers. (This multi-million dollar deal was scrapped last year because the international police force needed to quit its direct association with the Fifa crooks.)

There would be problems aplenty with a Sports Interpol for sure, but ones worth overcoming.

It would have to maintain vigorous independence despite being funded by the sports themselves. But it is certainly worth considering.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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