Sports Clubs Risk Integrity with Asia-Facing Sponsorships

An integrity body of the sports betting industry Global Lottery Monitoring System (GLMS) has published a comprehensive report into the sponsorship of sports clubs by betting companies in Asia. Betting sponsorship has disseminated across all levels of professional sport, and GLMS has called on all stakeholders to take immediate action to avoid damage to the integrity of sport through illicit gambling activity and illegal betting.

Football pitch and ball.

Asian-facing betting partners are gaining an increasing presence in major European football leagues. The GLMS report highlights a wide-range of new threats to the integrity of sport resulting from this new trend. ©KelvinStuttard/Pixabay

The information presented in the report highlighted the abundance of gambling sponsorship in modern-day sport, especially in football, where over 70% of the 188 clubs examined across Europe’s top leagues have a betting sponsor, with over 25% having the logo of betting operators on their shirts. Of the teams found to have ties with a betting company, nearly one-third dealt with operators doing business in unregulated or illegal markets.

Whilst the majority of betting companies operate according to industry regulations, there are malicious operators who sponsor well-respected football clubs, and have been found to be working alongside money-launderers, match-fixers, and organized criminals. The GLMS identified two Asia-based betting companies, Wolverhampton Wanderers sponsor ManBetX and Leicester City with, both are “leveraging” their sponsorship deals to legitimize their operating model and escape scrutiny over malpractice.

Asia is a huge betting market, and for the past several years illegal activity directed towards corrupting the integrity of professional sport, match-fixing, and facilitation of illegal betting has been ramped up and is becoming increasingly persistent. This leaves sports clubs in a precarious position, as those that claim to cherish the values and ethics of sports are being accused of hypocrisy for continuing their business relationship with shifty betting partners in unregulated Asian industries.

European football and betting are incredibly popular throughout Asia – and the current sponsorship deals in place help legitimize the products of operators, particularly in regions where online betting is illegal. Through their association with professional clubs, they are able to deflect criticisms that would otherwise end their ability to stay in business.

Sports teams may be unwittingly associating themselves with betting operators that are actively corrupting their sport. There are serious breaches of financial regulatory standards in the Asian online betting industry, and it is crucial for clubs to better understand the risk that comes through association with these operators.

Clubs Must Take Proper Due-Diligence

The GLSM has outlined in their report that the responsibility is now with European clubs to take the appropriate due diligence on a potential partner, and comprehensive checks must be carried out to ensure that they are operating legally. Unfortunately, the process of acquiring new sponsorships is littered with problems, and a complete overhaul is needed.

Out of all the major football leagues analyzed in the GLSM report, the Premier League had the highest concentration of Asian-facing betting partnerships, with 6 out of 20 clubs displaying Chinese betting logos on their shirts.

The report highlighted several problems in particular, the GLMS found trouble with the non-existent history of the firms appearing on Premier League shirts. Many of whom only exist for the term of the shirt sponsorship and make press releases regarding the firm’s operations in markets where betting is illegal, such as China and Thailand.

In this environment, due process and conducting a thorough investigation of the newly formed operators is not an easy task. These sponsorship deals are highly-irregular under the standards of any normal financial transaction. As the GLMS report highlights.

While some brand names remain, there have been some new companies which, with little or no discoverable past, are able to afford EPL shirt sponsorship and once the sponsorship period has ended, these brands no longer exist.A Study of Betting Operators and Their Sponsorship of Sport, commissioned by Global Lottery Monitoring System

The problem is certainly not unique to the English Premier League, in Spain there are 18 out of 20 clubs that have an association with an Asia-facing betting partner, including the recent Real Madrid partnership with Kok Sports.

Importantly, the GLMS report calls on all clubs and regulators with authority in top European football leagues to exercise their own judgment and end partnerships with illicit operators that may be hiding the true nature of their intentions. Often times these partnerships are formed to legitimize a certain illegal activity being conducted in the Asian-facing betting business.

GLMS also warned that their detailed and wide-reaching report will itself be used by betting companies in Asia to adapt their strategy in forming relationships with European clubs. Ultimately, sports organizations need to consider much tougher actions against this existential threat to the integrity of their sports, before it becomes completely rife in all sports across the world.

Steps have been taken in this regard, in June 2020 the UK Gambling Commission launched its own investigation into AFC Bournemouth’s Asian betting partner M88, as well as the European affiliate company, Mansion Europe. The investigation resulted in AFC Bournemouth ending its sponsorship deal with the operator.

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