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The French gaming authorities have reinforced their efforts in tackling the post-pandemic issues related to sports integrity. Namely with the publication of the new AFNOR SPEC X50-020 Guide, which is a roadmap for key industry stakeholders on their way to improved governance and total eradication of competition manipulation.
We Caught up with Gilles Maillet, Sports Integrity Director for leading operator FDJ, to hear more about how initiatives like this will affect the industry and what else can be done by stakeholders to ensure the sustained success of the French sports betting market.
What was the true impact of the pandemic on the French gaming sector? Did it cause an increase in financial vulnerabilities and betting corruption risks? How can these risks be mitigated in the future?
“The French gaming market suffered mostly from 2 factors in 2020: The lockdown of casinos and bars, and the lockdown of sporting events. However, most tobacco shops and press retailers remained open during the pandemic, which limited the gaming business loss in physical retail. Online, the sports betting activity suffered during a few months. Online operators proposing other products like poker or horse racing could limit to some extent the impact. The issue was that the remaining sports events were not all-clear from an integrity standpoint.
“All sports betting operators must then have a very up to date evaluation of risks by sport/competition level/country and they must provide robust detection tools and financial limits. Besides what they can do to help sports integrity of course.”
How has the recent pandemic impacted sports integrity issues in the industry? How can the regulatory authorities, gaming operators and sports federations work better to improve this? How can initiatives like the AFNOR SPEC X50-020 Guide effectively contribute to this?
“The remaining issue today is the lasting economic effect of the pandemic: The financial vulnerability of sports has strongly increased and is here to last. Organised crime sees opportunities in this situation. These opportunities mean higher match-fixing risks. This requires essentially a very high vigilance from sports betting operators and better cooperation with both sports federations and public authorities, in order to ensure effective detection and quick decisions, together with sport and the authorities.
“This requires also stronger prevention plans targeting all sectors of sports. This is what many lottery companies like FDJ are doing by organising annual awareness-raising sessions with industry stakeholders about match-fixing: informing about the issue, proposing how to behave in the case of an approach to fix a competition.
“The AFNOR guide, initiated by the French Ministry of sports, has also just been issued in France for that purpose, helping the world of sports to protect its integrity by proposing several good practices on governance, fighting against manipulation of competitions or doping. This document, in the conception of which FDJ participated, may also be a future basis for a sports integrity ISO project in the frame of the Paris 2024 Olympic games.”
The ANJ (French National Gaming Authority) recently appointed its first-ever Market, Compliance and Player Protections Director. Reinforcing their stance in the industry’s fight against match-fixing. What do you think are the key areas of the market ecosystem that the ANJ should focus on primarily to best reduce issues of sports integrity in the sector?
“The ANJ, created in 2020, has broader responsibilities than the former ARJEL authority. They have a particularly stronger focus on consumer protection in general through the ability to control the quality of responsible gaming policies of the licensed operators. Regarding the fight against match-fixing, the key tool remains the official list of competitions and markets that are allowed for betting on the French market. By prioritising safer competitions and bet types, we have to recognize that this tool helps to avoid 2/3rds of the potential manipulation risks detected by most global organisations and this does not harm the business dynamics of the French market.
“The other key tool is the capability of French authorities so far to detect and block the majority of illegal operators. The next challenge for ANJ is probably to prevent cooperation between some French professional clubs and betting operators who act illegally in remote countries.”
The European Lotteries association recently showed its commitment to the fight against match-fixing by spreading awareness about #EUSportIntegrityDay. They are also a founding member of the Global Lottery Monitoring System (GLMS). Are the EL a prime example of how best to spread awareness and combat match-fixing industry-wide? What else should key sector stakeholders be doing going forward to ensure that the issue of match-fixing remains a priority for everyone?
“The European Lotteries Association is very active in supporting most projects that deal with the protection of sport integrity. It is fundamentally in the values of lotteries to support the integrity of sport. Besides what you mentioned, EL is also contributing to the KCOOS+ project led by the Council of Europe and supporting the action from the Group of Copenhagen, the “club” of National Platforms against match-fixing. Doing so, I confirm that EL is showing the right example to betting industry stakeholders by being everywhere where it counts to concretely help sport and authorities defending sport ethics. This is of course helping the integrity of sports betting as a consequence.
“One example of where key sector stakeholders can still improve their work is the prevention vis à vis the sport movement. As I said previously, at FDJ, we try to help sportspeople to understand the development of match-fixing and to know how to behave properly. In fact, I strongly believe that prevention is the first area where operators can help by sharing their experience of sports betting. We have also initiated and co-designed the first all-sports whistleblowing secured tool that has just been launched in France in early July.”
From speaking with Gilles, it seems clear that much progress is being made in the battle for sports integrity. Initiatives like the AFNOR guide and the KCOOS+ project provide a robust framework for sports betting stakeholders to follow, creating an environment that keeps any cases of fraud, manipulation or problem gambling to an absolute minimum. FDJ are a great example of an operator using these initiatives to their benefit, securing the safety of their players from all aspects. A trend we expect to see continue across Europe in the near future.