IOC pushing governments to act on illegal betting

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By STEPHEN WILSON, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — The IOC wants governments to do more to tackle illegal betting, match-fixing and other corrupt activities that authorities say could pose a bigger threat to sports and the Olympics than doping.

The International Olympic Committee will host a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Thursday of sports leaders, government ministers, licensed betting operators, lottery companies and the international police agency Interpol.

The meeting, which comes less than six months before the London Olympics, will act on a series of recommendations for cracking down on the multibillion-dollar illegal sports gambling industry.

"We absolutely need governments to wake up to the magnitude of the problem," IOC director general Christophe De Kepper told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "This is affecting not only the credibility of sports, but it's a criminal activity that moves very quickly around the world."

Interpol has estimated that illegal betting is worth $140 billion a year and involves organized crime gangs and money laundering.

"There needs to be an understanding from the public authorities of the threat of criminal networks and the powerful financial transactions involved," De Kepper said in a telephone interview from Lausanne. "The threat in our opinion is at least as serious as doping for the credibility of sport, and probably even worse if you look at the sums involved."

Football and cricket, among other sports, have been rocked by fixing scandals driven by betting scams.

Thursday's meeting is the second of the IOC anti-corruption group after its initial summit in Lausanne a year ago. The delegates will review recommendations made by three working groups that met in June.

Among the sports ministers attending will be those from Britain, France and Russia.

De Kepper said one of the proposals is to establish a "universal code of conduct" for the Olympic movement, including athletes, judges and referees.

Another recommendation urges governments to adopt legislation making "sports fraud" a criminal offense, enabling prosecution and penalties for match-fixing and other activities, De Kepper said.

The IOC is intent on taking action before the London Olympics, which will run from July 27 to Aug. 12, but said the threats are greater outside the games.

"We have been told by experts that most probably the games are not the priority target either for illegal or irregular betting," De Kepper said. "But we have the measures in place so that if something happened we would be ready to act."

The IOC monitored betting patterns during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, but found nothing irregular or illegal.

"You can't exclude something would happen at the games, but I think the level of threat is higher in less prominent sports events where it is easier to cheat away from the spotlight," De Kepper said.

Ruled out, for now, is the creation of a global body to fight illegal betting along the lines of the World Anti-Doping Agency. De Kepper said governments do not believe such an organization is necessary.

"We are open," he said. "For us, what is important is the objective and not the means. If the consensus is to have a world agency, we would be very happy to create it. But we don't want to force an agency when there is not a common view."

De Kepper said it would be "helpful" if governments would provide financial support for the anti-corruption measures. The IOC also suggests that legal betting operators should help fund the work.

"They have not said no," De Kepper said.

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