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  • Writer's pictureHarry Bailey

Is the popularity of amateur sports gambling a concern for the NPL?

It is no secret that Australians love to have a bet from time to time. From sports to reality TV, Australians can place a bet on practically anything, at any time, with a click of a button. But with the increased popularity of amateur sports betting across Australian football, when does placing a bet become an issue in maintaining the equity and integrity of our beloved game?

Betting on the NPL is becoming increasingly popular. (Canberra Deakin Football Club)


There's undoubtedly been an increase in popularity towards betting on amateur sports in Australia. In gambling's digital world, punters worldwide can bet on amateur football matches that receive no more than 100 real-life attendees. From youth fixtures to third-tier local football matches, international and Australian gamblers can receive constant live updates on community-level matchups. Whilst it may be increasing the interest in local football, are the issues, such as match-fixing and individual athlete breaches, a concern for Football Australia?


FPF recently spoke to a Sports Integrity Australia (SIA) spokesperson about this increased growth, explaining that the increased popularity in local community sports increases the risk of sporting corruption through betting markets.


“Increased streaming of community-level sports does increase the potential for criminal infiltration. This is why education is important,” the spokesperson said.


“Someone in the world will seek to monetise that by having a sports betting market on that particular event.”

With the SIA working with government agencies, sporting codes, and law enforcement agencies to eliminate this risk, the spokesperson explained that sporting corruption is an issue that needs to be understood at all levels.


“Everyone involved in sport, including athletes, employees, coaches, officials, contractors, and support personnel, at all levels, should be aware of competition manipulation threats and their specific sport policy,” the spokesperson added.


So how has the FA responded and counteracted the threats gambling poses? Intriguingly, the increased demand for amateur sports betting has benefited the FA. Recently, the public became aware when a ‘secret’ financial deal between the FA and major betting agencies was released. The agreement shows the FA receives either 1% of every bet on Australian football matches or 15% of the bookmakers’ profit from an individual’s bet. Former Bet365 manager Prasad Kanitkar explained on the ABC’s Four Corners program that community-level football matches can receive “tens of thousands of dollars” every minute. With this significant investment in community football in Australia, it is clear the deal mentioned above would act as a gigantic revenue stream for the FA.

It is unclear what the total revenue the FA receives through this agreement is. But, purely from a financial perspective, the FA would not be too displeased with the increased growth in amateur sports betting in Australia. Throughout an NPL season, the FA reaps the financial benefits from this deal, as the public can bet on first-grade fixtures and sometimes U20s or Reserve grade fixtures.


Undoubtedly a big market for many sporting codes in Australia, it is understandable why gambling is such a prominent revenue stream for the FA. However, with the deal only recently coming to light to the public, the FA was likely trying to keep it under wraps due to the equity and ethical concerns that may be at large. With betting on youth games being a debate, it is clear why Australian football's governing body may not have wanted the public to know about this deal.


So, what are the consequences of the agreement?


Proving to be a projected revenue stream for the FA, Australian Government, and multiple betting agencies, it’s safe to suggest amateur sports betting isn’t going away anytime soon. However, with this popularity increase, major equity issues such as corruption and match-fixing may enter the equation for the eight NPL leagues across Australia. With the increased accessibility of betting in the NPL across Australia and internationally, is it unfathomable for something like match-fixing to occur? Perhaps not, as historically, this issue in semi-professional and amateur football matches isn’t as rare as it may seem.


In 2013 in the Victorian Premier League, multiple players and coaches of Melbourne club Dingley Stars FC (formally Southern Stars FC) were charged with sports corruption offences after an alleged collaboration with international match-fixing syndicate gambling rings. An estimated $2 million was believed to be connected with this particular operation, leading to individual prison sentences and lifetime FIFA bans.


A similar issue occurred in 2017 when Dandenong Thunder hosted Melbourne City’s U20 side in the Victorian NPL 2 East. The 2-2 draw was investigated by police when speculation and match-fixing allegations were targeted towards two men involved with Dandenong Thunder. The investigated men were issued match-fixing charges believed to be facilitated by corrupting the game to suit a betting outcome.

Dandenong Thunder players celebrate their VPL title in 2012. (Star Journal/Gary Sissons)


With two significant investigations occurring in the last ten years, increasing betting markets in amateur sports may put the NPLs at the forefront of sporting corruption. With significantly less media coverage than mainstream professional sports in Australia, thus eliminating scrutiny, a repeat of the match-fixing scandals seen in 2013 and 2017 is not out of the question. It can be argued that with the popularity in international betting markets for the NPL, we are only at the beginning of match-fixing being a severe issue.


However, it's not all doom and gloom, as with the increased bets being placed on the NPL, the eyes local football in Australia receives also grows, though how this viewership is being cultivated is questionable at best. But through this popularity, viewership can also help counteract match-fixing risks, as the more investment and interest the NPL obtains, the more financially stable it becomes, and the more thorough media coverage and scrutiny the leagues receive. With further public interest, corruption in the NPL would become more complicated to achieve as games become more accessible online and obtain more press coverage. Alternatively, the more obscure the league, the easier it can be to get away with fixing and corrupting a football match.


But with betting agencies continually finding more amateur sporting events and leagues to bet on, can we keep up with the potential match-fixing risks? Should the FA step in and limit gambling on community-level and NPL fixtures? The evident revenue stream being created for the FA may be why interventions have yet to occur on their part. But the integrity of the NPL and Australia's local leagues are at risk. It is visibly understandable why many would want the FA or federal and state governments to step in and limit this possibility. Solutions such as a limit on betting stakes or regulating which amateur fixtures the public can place bets on are some ideas that may be considered to reduce this risk.

Football Australia may need to intervene on NPL gambling to protect the integrity of football at a local level. (Four Corners)


However, match-fixing isn’t the only issue, as ethical concerns surround gambling practices on community-level players, especially those involved in youth games. In certain instances, the public is allowed to bet on teams that could include individuals who are 16 or younger.


These very issues have been common surrounding football worldwide. The abovementioned issue has come to light in recent years as gambling companies receive more complaints that sponsoring clubs and leagues involving youth players is unethical. Seen as potential ‘sports washing’, is the allowance of gambling on community-level and NPL fixtures allowing youth players to be exposed to punting from a young age? The NPLs, for one, may be concerned about this impact manifesting in athlete breaches and further corruption issues amongst the leagues nationwide in the future. As it occurs in the top divisions worldwide, can the NPL maintain and monitor athlete betting and corruption? With English Premier League and Brentford star Ivan Toney facing 262 charges for breaching the English Football Association's betting rules, it is clear this issue is not taboo for many of the top leagues and athletes abroad. With the NPL not remotely in the same bracket as the Premier League regarding revenue and popularity, is the FA equipped with the resources and assets to limit and monitor athlete betting on semi-professional and amateur fixtures?

 

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Unfortunately, the SIA may have their hands full with this increased growth in local sports betting. When financial gain enters the equation for athletes at this level of football, corruption will potentially follow suit. It, therefore, may force the FA to take action.


“Related money is an issue that can attract corruption in any enterprise. Sport is subject to these negative influences," the SIA spokesperson said.


With two match-fixing cases occurring in the last ten years in the NPL, the FA will hope these issues are increasingly rare and unlikely to happen. Thankfully, the NPL comprises many nationwide clubs built on pride and tradition. Breaching betting rules and regulations would prove disastrous for many of Australia’s oldest and most valued clubs.


But with the increased popularity of gambling on amateur and semi-professional football, how important is it for clubs to be aware and educated on gambling breaches and concerns so this issue does not spiral out of control? With the FA financially benefiting from gambling in Australian football, is it possible corruption has been looked the other way? Are there clubs and athletes who have already breached betting rules and have escaped punishments? It may be time to strategise gambling regulations before it’s too late.


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