SBC News Niels Erik Folmann: The pandemic was not just a commercial issue, but also one of integrity

Niels Erik Folmann: The pandemic was not just a commercial issue, but also one of integrity

With a lack of live sports markets over the last few months, betting companies and punters alike have switched their attention towards a range of new sports, leagues and betting opportunities – but doing so has resulted in fresh concerns regarding the integrity of such markets.

Discussing how the pandemic has affected the ways in which companies approached the last few months, Niels Erik Folmann, CEO at Danske Spil, explained that it became quickly apparent that the postponement of live sports was not just a commercial issue but also one of integrity.

He explained: “Obviously the last few months have been a very uncommon, unfamiliar situation for us. We started seeing the leagues closing down, and different sports being cancelled. At the beginning, there was a feeling that this might come to an end soon. We did our best to get everyone together and establish a committee which would look at what actions we had to take each day in terms of integrity. We followed the leagues being opened and closed.

“Not long after the leagues started closing, the press began writing about so-called ghost games, leagues that may have been compromised, accusations of match fixing. So it very quickly became clear to us that this wasn’t just a commercial issue, this was a high-ranking matter on how we should approach sports integrity. 

“We had to make sure that we protected not only our sports from a commercial perspective, but also our integrity as a member of GLMS as well as a state-owned operator in Denmark.”

Folmann was joined on the panel by Oliver Lamb, Head Sportsbook Controller at Kambi, Gilles Maillet, Director of Sports Integrity at LFDJ, and Faiz Kabir, Senior Integrity Manager at Sportradar. The panel session was moderated by Silvia Paleari, Senior Public Affairs Manager at the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA). 

Reiterating Folmann’s point, Lamb pointed out that the negative press surrounding lower league games and potential risks of match-fixing meant that they chose not to offer particular markets to ensure that betting integrity was maintained.

He added: “We were offering low-level table tennis and darts for a period during the pandemic. We had always offered those sports, but they were never the central pillar of our product – but the pandemic meant that we were expecting to see significant turnover on these events. We did a full risk management review before we offered any tournament during this period. 

“We were looking at the limits on every event, the betting markets we would like to take, reviewing the participants involved and whether we wanted to take any of them out of our offering. 

“There were things that we didn’t choose to offer, such as the lower league Swedish games. They tended to be lower level, there was no participant information available, no sanctioning governing body behind it – so we chose not to offer those events, which I hope was the right thing to do. There were no obvious instances of fixing, but it did generate negative press, which subsequently became a wider integrity issue. There were a number of new angles to consider, that’s for sure.”

Kabir emphasised Sportradar’s decision to implement enhanced measures throughout the pandemic period which he explained have been key in both managing and mitigating any integrity risks which may have arisen.

Highlighting the company’s decision to quickly adapt to the new challenges posed by an influx in betting activity on lower league sports, Kabir praised the Sportradar team’s diversity and knowledge of individual markets as a strong foundation for overcoming such issues.

He stated:  “The impact of COVID-19 has certainly presented some challenges from an integrity standpoint. As sports and events which were usually on the fringes suddenly entered the spotlight, our integrity team had to adapt quickly to the situation when the likes of esports and table tennis quickly became the most popular betting markets back in April. 

“However, we were very equipped to deal with this due our very diverse team of analysts with specialists in such markets. It was then up to the remainder of our team – who may not have been as familiar with such sports – to build up their knowledge which was definitely a challenge that they met head on. 

“In addition, there was an enhanced risk due to many lower-level competitions suddenly generating large betting volumes. While Sportradar already has a strong internal control environment to help protect against issues such as ghost games, we decided to implement enhanced measures during the COVID-19 period. 

“We decided to monitor all events that we provide data for which was a significant undertaking but one that we felt was vital to manage and mitigate integrity risks during the pandemic period. We also implemented code of conduct for participants as well as education initiatives and integrity training for events organisers and athletes.”

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