Behind the scenes: monitoring of sports betting at Beijing 2022

09 Feb 2022
IOC News Beijing 2022

A combination of sophisticated algorithms, smart IT platforms, human intelligence and cooperation with key partners enables the IOC to detect competition manipulation related to sports betting on Olympic events. In the following interview, Friedrich Martens, Head of the Olympic Movement Unit on the Prevention of the Manipulation of Competitions (OM Unit PMC), shares some insights about this complex, but well proven process.

Olympic Rings Beijing 2022 Getty Images

Whilst sports betting is not negative per se and is a way to engage sports fans across the globe, the problem occurs when it triggers competition manipulation. Therefore, the IOC has undertaken significant efforts, particularly since the early 2000s, to protect the Olympic Movement against any related risks of competition manipulation.

The OM Unit PMC, via its Integrity Betting Intelligence System (IBIS)  and with several partners, is currently monitoring 24/7 sports betting on all Olympic competitions at Beijing 2022. But how does the monitoring work exactly; when is a betting pattern classified as irregular or suspicious; and how are such cases followed up? Here are the answers from Friedrich Martens!

How important is the collaboration with partners when monitoring sports betting during the Olympic Games?

Collaboration is essential. During the current Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, we are working together with a series of stakeholders including Sportradar, the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA), the Global Lottery Monitoring System (GLMS) and the Council of Europe’s network of national platforms (Group of Copenhagen).

Additionally, we are collaborating with major betting regulatory authorities and a large number of private sports betting companies from around the world. These stakeholders exchange with us any relevant information about irregular betting patterns or suspicious betting activities detected that might imply competition manipulation. They would also share with us information in relation to an accredited person having placed a bet on an Olympic event, which is strictly prohibited. All the information we receive is centralised in our IBIS platform. In addition to these strategic partnerships, anyone can report to us via the IOC Integrity Hotline, which is constantly checked. Any report can constitute the initial trigger for further investigations.

How do you define irregular and therefore suspicious betting patterns?

Our starting point is that the odds represent a probability. If the odds alter in a way that is not following the probability, this can be an indication of an irregularity and hence requires attention and further investigation. In addition, we are alarmed if a competition receives much higher money flows than expected.

IOC/Christophe Moratal - Friedrich Martens, Head of the Olympic Movement Unit on the Prevention of the Manipulation of Competitions Friedrich Martens - © IOC/Christophe Moratal

How do you follow up on irregular betting patterns? What is the process?

In any of the cases mentioned above, we would start a pre-investigation together with our partners. For instance, we would verify if such an irregularity is seen by only one specific partner or if it is confirmed by others. As soon as a certain level of evidence is reached, we will swiftly pass on the information to the IOC Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, and a disciplinary process will be started with the possible creation of a Disciplinary Commission.

How do you liaise with the International Federations (IFs) and National Olympic Committees (NOCs) if potential cases occur? What is their role in this context?

Once we receive an alert and start with the pre-investigation phase, we evaluate all inputs. As part of this process, we make a first contact with our point person for integrity matters in the respective IF, as this expert can help us to understand the situation on the field of play and provide potential reasons for the prima facie irregular odds movements. Should the situation remain obscure, we will also inform our point person in the NOC about the matter. As per the rules, we generally include all involved parties in the disciplinary process.

How has the monitoring technology or process evolved over the years?

Monitoring tools and processes have evolved significantly. We now rely on sophisticated algorithms and IT platforms that generate alerts which are quite credible. However, the human element must never be underestimated. This is particularly important, as most sports on the Olympic programme (summer and winter) only appear on the sports betting markets during the Games, and are otherwise not subject to sports betting at all. In any case, all alerts generated by algorithms need to be assessed and evaluated by human intelligence.

What do you regard as the biggest challenge in monitoring sports betting?

Obviously match-fixing, or as we call it “competition manipulation”, constitutes the biggest breach of the Olympic Movement Code on the Prevention of the Manipulation of Competitions (OM Code PMC). However, as we have seen in the past, a violation of the prohibition on betting by accredited persons at the Games is actually far more likely to happen, and obviously that may lead to “real” match-fixing. Therefore, we have heavily invested in awareness-raising activities for all stakeholders during the last years. Nowadays neither athletes, entourage members, officials nor any other accredited persons at the Games can claim they did not know the rules. At Tokyo 2020, we did not have any issues in this regard.

A challenge that remains is the difficulty of accessing account-based information, which is necessary to identify relevant breaches. We keep addressing this pressing matter with our partners on the sports betting side, and I believe we can see progress in this area already. We have come a long way and are in possession of much more information than in the past.

How do you see the future of monitoring sports betting?

I feel we are already at a very good stage, but there is always room for improvement. In addition to working towards easier access to account-based information, we will further invest in strategic collaboration. Our wide network of partners keeps growing. We will also continue to support the Council of Europe, specifically in its ongoing development of national platforms. These are national cooperation frameworks with the participation of all relevant stakeholders (sport, law enforcement, state and betting industry), which has proved an efficient model to tackle competition manipulation. Amongst other tasks, these national platforms also analyse alerts based on their local and national experience. In parallel, we will support even more strongly the IFs and NOCs in protecting from cheating the events under their specific jurisdiction. It’s important to share with them our expertise and best practice from the Olympic Games. Stronger together!

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