Tuesday, 23 March 2010


I was disappointed to hear the news that Ian Watmore has resigned as CEO of the FA.

I had a coffee with him about 8 weeks or so ago, to talk about how the betting industry and the big sports could understand each other better. I found him pragmatic, receptive, and likeable. Admittedly, it helped that, as a mathematician and technologist, he understood Betfair immediately and saw through the arguments against us.

That aside, though, in my view it says little for the structures of our sports that people are hired to do a defined job and feel that they can't because of the system.

It's not an issue limited to football. Our sport is littered with organisations which seem to overlap just enough to make it impossible to get anything done. Sports politics is worse than the real thing.

So, who to succeed him?

Well I had thought until yesterday that Nic Coward must be dusting down his cv with a view to heading off to ITV to join up with Adam Crozier, but I would imagine that this latest news might make him think again.

Whether anyone would relish the role now, though, after Watmore has made it so abundantly clear that you can't pursue the mandate you're given, is anyone's guess.


  1. Hi Mark - on the topic of football it would be interesting to hear your views on the Chievo v Catania game from this weekend.

    I would be particularly interested into why the markets were kept open by Betfair despite the suspicious betting patterns which started some days before the game took place which prompted several other bookmakers to suspend betting before the weekend of the match.

    I am sure that the match was well monitored and Betfair reported the unusual betting but I would have thought given how unusual the betting was Betfair would have had a duty of care towards its customers and have suspended the markets and perhaps even void the markets?


  2. Hi Mark - there is another match this evening (23/03/2010) that looks to have suspect betting patterns as well between Vicenza and Crotone.

    It seems all the bookmakers bar Betfair and the other exchanges have stopped taking bets on this match which I assume is because of the betting patterns.

    Other bookmakers stand to lose of course if a result were to be fixed as they don't manage their risk perfectly like Betfair do so therefore will be very careful in what bets they accept.

    The draw is already priced around 1.67 with a 1-1 score line priced around 2.54 on Betfair but the 0-0 is around 8.0.

    I would have thought that keeping markets such as this open (obviously Betfair have a short term financial interest in keeping such markets open from a commission view point) does a lot of damage to the reputation of Betfair and just adds fuel to the fire of the likes of arguments that exchanges facilitate cheating etc.

    It will be interesting to see what happens in the match but everything is pointing to another 1-1 score line.

    I hope I am wrong and would love to hear in more detail what actions Betfair take in these situations to safe guard their clients.

  3. Leon,

    Why does it damage the reputation of Betfair? Surely you're joking if you think anyone betting on these games with Betfair isn't doing it because they are either following the money blindly, or have backed the draw somewhere else and are just arbing out. People who do not look at the evidence in front of them do not deserve protection IMHO.

    It's not 2001 anymore - there aren't innocent punters being caught out by this thing, it's just putting an even bigger spotlight on it - so much so that the Italian football authorities are actually investigating that match on the weekend.

    Betfair's reputation rightly or wrongly has survived scandals such as the Fallon case, the Davydenko-Vassallo Arguello match, outages at key times and the premium charge. I hardly think this is going to make one iota of difference.

    BTW from experience, most, but not all, of these dodgy matches in Italy go according to the script. Sometimes it's punters putting two and two together to end up with five, or like has been seen in tennis betting a few times in 2009, a cunning plan by a group of punters to create momentum in the market, drawing in all the sheep who crush the market, enabling the initiators to lay off at the bottom of the market and clean up.

  4. Scott - the reason I think it damages the reputation of Betfair is if they continue to allow betting on a match that has very suspicious betting, it creates the impression that they facilitate the placing of bets on a potentially fixed match.

    I appreciate it allows them to collect evidence that can be used down the line. Much in the same way that police will allow criminals to continue to commit crimes while they collect evidence to allow them to prosecute the criminal.

    Betfair are not the cause of the fixing obviously but they are potentially allowing people to make money out of fixing when there is strong evidence that fixing is happening.

    To say there are not innocent punters being caught out by this is I feel is wrong. I am sure there are still some people who are placing bets on a game without the full knowledge that you and I have about such matches.

    Of course it is their own free will to place the bets but I feel there should be a level of protection where the bookmaker in such suspicious cases no longer allows people to place bets.

    To say people who do not look at the evidence in front them do not deserve protection is also wrong in my opinion. Some people may just be having a casual bet as many people do and who do not base their bet upon research but perhaps for example they are going to the pub with some mates to watch the game and want an added interest. Why should these people not be offered a level of protection when there is significant evidence that something is not right?

    A simple example on Betfair itself is when placing bets over 99 you get a warning that you are doing so, why do this other than to offer a level of protection? The evidence that you are placing a bet at x odds is there right in front of you so why bother with the warning?

    In other walks of life there are numerous cases where protection is provided to people despite there being significant evidence that should make the person cautious.

    As I already said the betting exchanges highlight unusual betting, particularly in horse racing and have the MOU in place and FIFA have their early warning systems, but I strongly feel that allowing such markets to remain open just puts a bit more fuel onto the fire of peoples negative thoughts about exchanges.

    I struggle to see in cases where there is strong evidence of fixing why the markets should remain open other than to collect evidence and even this is highly questionable. Are there any positive reasons for keeping such markets open?

  5. As I said in my last paragraph - because some of them aren't necessarily fixes, and is it Betfair's job to play God?

    0-2 going into injury time at the moment....

  6. Well the game didn't end with a 1-1 draw which indicates Betfair were fully correct to keep the market open. However, I still feel that keeping such markets open does have the potential to harm Betfairs reputation and provide fuel to the fire.

    As I said earlier I would be keen to hear what Betfair does in such situations to safe guard their clients.

    In response to your last comment Scott, perhaps something like a message on the Markets sections of the forum saying that such and such a market is being monitored due to suspicious betting would help make people more aware?

  7. Hi Leon

    Sorry for the delay in replying: we had a Board meeting yesterday and we're about to embark on a two-day management strat meeting, so I shall be brief.

    Of course we do monitor these markets carefully, and we make a judgment based on what we see. Not everyone agrees with that judgment all the time, either way (or indeed our right to make it). When we voided the Poland Open tennis match, we came in for a lot of criticism for doing so. I believe we were right to, but many disagree with me and take the view that we made a judgment that day that was not ours to make.

    The scoreline in the second game underlines that things that look, on the face of it, to be obviously problematic need not be. We can see both sides of the picture - not just the volumes going through that you see, but also what is driving them - and as Scott points out, the numbers can be inflated by people blindly following the crowd without that meaning that there is necessarily a problem. I take your point about reputational issues, and of course we bear in mind the perception as well as the reality when we look at the markets.

    Our ideal scenario is to be able to share our information completely with the relevant sport's regulator. That isn't always possible, because not all regulators want to have MOUs with us. Why that should be, you should be asking them rather than us: personally, I find it extraordinary that any body tasked with running a sport should not want free information about what betting is taking place on it.

    I think our integrity team is the stand-out body worldwide for anti-corruption operations in sport and I would love it - or a replica of it with identical tools and expertise (but standing as an independent global service) - to be used as a tool by anyone who is tasked with protecting the integrity of sport. I think we are likely to have grown a lot older by the time that happens, but I live in hope (and spend some of my time in conversation with sporting regulators actively trying to make it happen).