When it comes to protecting the integrity of sports, the fight is fought on many fronts. There is responsibility on the fans to bet fairly without looking for unscrupulous advantages. There is pressure on the players to stay strong when confronted with easy ways to make quick cash. And the various governing bodies have a duty to remain vigilant as threats to sporting integrity are evolving by the year.
However, the fight always boils down to one key component: data.
The importance of data
Data plays a crucial role in the world of sporting integrity whichever side of the fight you are on, as sports data and AI technology provider Stats Perform knows only too well.
“Live data, when it comes to sporting events, is very valuable and can be used in a wrong way,” says Jake Marsh, global head of integrity at Stats Perform. “It can make people a lot of money and it can lose companies, as in betting operators, lots of money. We are at the forefront of trying to make sure things operate as cleanly as possible in this area.”
Marsh adds that betting operators are reliant on accurate, reliable, transparent, high quality, ultra-fast event data, to ensure that the markets they run are clean and accurate. It’s an intense operation which requires the highest levels of vigilance as many factors come into play: who are the players and who’s regulating which competition, for example. Elsewhere, technology, technological vulnerabilities around speed and latency are some of the other variables that affect the accuracy of the data which is so precious to everyone involved.
“Having a data supply chain that is secure is a key part of supporting the betting industry now. We believe our customers deserve to have their own operations protected by best practice and processes in risk management that is conducted by the suppliers, i.e. companies like Stats Perform,” says Marsh.
“Betting operators rely on us for the veracity of our data to effectively manage their markets – and so they don’t lose money themselves. This is an area that has long been overdue in general within the industry, one that has needed looking at.”
Stats Perform has an array of weapons in its arsenal when it comes to preserving sporting integrity. This is especially important as the company has had to learn how to deal with a wide range of threats, as Marsh explains.
“We’ve had fake games, we’ve had organised crime trying to infiltrate data collection networks in Europe, we’ve had a case in two different countries of a group deploying signal jammers to try and disrupt better data distribution, which we identified and mitigated.”
In addition to working with the data supply chain – maintaining the quality of the data available to markets – the company is also involved in anti-match fixing issues.
This includes providing bet monitoring and conducting underground investigations of major sporting events, while the intelligence team shares information with betting operators. Betting analysis, performance analysis and intelligence are combined into one package.
Stats Perform carries out this service on behalf of betting operators and rights holders alike, as betting integrity is a shared interest for both stakeholders.
“On the data integrity side, we’ve got a leading division when it comes to data collection,” Marsh continues. “We’ve really within the business been driving standards around betting data collection and distribution. Not only tangible ways such as policy, but also intangible ways such as processes, and we’ve put in a risk management framework around that whole data supply chain.
“Everything we do on a daily basis is geared towards minimising that risk for betting operators and the market. But of course, sport integrity doesn’t just include match fixing.”
The bigger picture
While acknowledging the significance that sports betting plays in Stats Perform’s output and sporting integrity as a whole, Marsh is keen to emphasise the work that needs doing outside of betting.
“Integrity itself covers a wide range of areas now,” he says.
“It started out that integrity meant match fixing and betting corruption. Then it became that doping was blended in there as well. But it now covers a range of issues: safeguarding, governance, online prevention and tackling online abuse, and all these areas now fit under the integrity umbrella.”
One only needs to remember the fallout from last summer’s Euro 2020 final to realise the significance of what Marsh says.
As the definition of integrity expands, so do the ways in which the issue is tackled.
Stats Perform’s integrity work now includes investigations around investment, due diligence, club ownership, agents and finance to name a few. One aim is to reinforce the internal structures which prop up sports, so as to avoid corruption trickling down to the lowest levels.
Stats Perform also recognises the importance of educating and protecting the athletes themselves as, in an age of social media, they are more susceptible than ever to threats to their integrity.
Marsh adds: “Our players themselves are now coming under more and more abuse, particularly on social media, whether that’s when they’ve played badly, or they’re perceived to have said something wrong in the press and the fans don’t like it. Sports were really unprepared for this kind of issue.
“Similarly to when match fixing really started becoming a problem in terms of leaks, organised crime and groups outside of sport targeting sport, the social media online abuse problem is quite similar –it has been a huge problem.
“But sports don’t necessarily have the technology and the solutions in house, or the budgets as yet to tackle this.”
This has informed Stats Perform’s partnership with data science company Signify, as the pair teamed up to create a new social media abuse monitoring service.
On the collaboration, Marsh says: “It’s all geared towards prevention and investigation of online abuse of athletes across a range of online hate, racism and homophobia and ableist abuse. It covers a real wide range. And that’s now firmly under our umbrella in terms of our integrity remit.
“And of course, it does have links to betting because players can get online abuse if [someone has] lost a bet and starts throwing out match-fixing accusations. There is a link there into our work that we do on a regular basis. It’s all just part of Stats Perform being a responsible partner to both the betting and the sports industries, and just trying to help find solutions to help protect all stakeholders.”
Stakeholders come to rely on Stats Perform as it has proven to be a dependable data resource. And to ensure that remains the case in the future, the company does everything within its power to maintain its high standards.
It recently retained its accreditation from the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA) for a second consecutive year, having become the first sports betting data provider to be awarded accreditation in 2021.
Marsh adds: “We supported IBIA when they came out with the data standards straight away and said, ‘We completely agree with this, this is a fantastic idea for the betting industry and for sport in general’. We believe we can lead by example in this area, we’re confident that our house is in order, and that we can help the industry maintain and develop even higher standards.
“Naturally, we’re pushing ourselves year on year, to come up with new ways of managing risk, identifying new threats and how to mitigate them. To be able to demonstrate that we’ve had an independent assurance quality audit around our data supply chain is fantastic, it’s something that we’re very proud of.
“As a business we go beyond the standards themselves in terms of what we do. That’s not to say that the standards aren’t strong because they are.”
Marsh highlights that the fight to preserve integrity within sports will always be a collaborative effort as each party has a vital stake in the operation.
“It’s really important that we see all stakeholders having a part to play in integrity, betting and sport integrity,” he says. “We see ourselves as service providers for both the betting and sport sectors. It’s not just the betting operator that has financial and reputational incentives or issues on the line, there’s a sport involved as well.”