ASO, the UCI and Sports Betting

In recent years, sports betting has become more and more popular. It’s glory days for the bookmakers but also for the event organizers. Due to the rapid increase in sports betting and thereby property and image exploitation, the event organizers naturally want a piece of the cake as well, writes Mikkel Condé.

In France, the gambling law from 2010 states that all licensed bookmakers by ARJEL (the independent administrative authority regulating the French online gambling market) have to make a contract with the event organizers for a financial return and to control the exploitation conditions of the competition. For example, the French Football Federation (FFF) and the French Professional Football League (LFP) have made a deal with the bookmakers, securing them 1 % of all placed bets. This law only applies for events taking place on French territory though.

One of these events is the Tour de France, organized by ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation). In France, not all cycling races are legal to bet on. However, as the world’s largest annual sporting event, naturally, the Tour de France is on the list of allowed races.

Due to the risk of match-fixing, the International Cycling Union, UCI, has strict rules against betting. In §8 – 1.2.030 of “General organisation of cycling and sport”, it says:

Anyone subject to the UCI regulations may not be involved directly or indirectly in the organisation of bets on cycling competitions, under penalty of a suspension of between 8 days and one year and/or a fine of CHF 2,000 to 200,000. In addition, if an organiser is involved, any competition organized by him may be excluded from the calendar for one year.

This clearly states that race organizers aren’t allowed to be involved in betting in anyway. How does that correspond with the French gambling law giving ASO a cut of the action on the Tour?

To UCI’s defense, the mentioned rule hasn’t been updated since January 2005 – long before the French gambling law was instated. Therefore, in 2010 UCI’s Legal Department & Marketing Department started working on a report regarding: ”the betting situation in cycling and propose a solution to change the rules”. However, this report was never made.

I contacted the UCI in February asking about the report. Gerrit Middag, Marketing & Events Director, gave me the following reply:

“For several reasons, the process on this was often postponed and therefore never realised. However, our legal department is currently looking into this matter again (after the change of President & administration). It will not be something that will be ready soon as it is very complex, but halfway through this year we should know a bit more about our strategy”.

It sure seems like betting is a huge grey area. One could argue that ASO doesn’t have any influence on the bets placed on the Tour de France and therefore doesn’t really conflict with the UCI rules. However, if you dig a little deeper, you will find this not to be the case.

In September 2011, the French gambling company SaJOO and Bwin.France merged. SaJOO was owned by the Amaury Group, which also owns ASO. The merger means that the Amaury Group as of 2012 (according to Bloomberg), owns 28 % of B.E.S. SAS (Bwin’s French subsidiary: SaJOO’s managing director at the time, Christophe Blot, tells that the goal with the merger is to build a forth pillar to the Amaury Group after ASO and the two French newspapers ‘Le Parisien’ / ‘Aujourd’hui en France’ and ‘L’Equipe’.

This means that the Amaury Group (and thereby ASO) is directly involved in the gambling industry. In theory, this means that the ASO (via the Amaury Group) can decide the available prices on the Tour de France, which they organize. ASO it not only indirectly involved in betting on the Tour de France due to the French gambling law, they are also directly involved as the Amaury Group owns a large stake of huge bookmaker. In fact, Bwin is the world’s largest publicly traded online gambling firm with a total revenue of €652.4m in 2013.

Match-fixing is hot potato in world of sport right now and the UCI clearly doesn’t know how to tackle the situation. What do you think, is it fair-play that ASO are both indirectly and directly involved in the betting on the Tour de France? I’ve been trying to get in contact with the ASO for several months asking about their involvement. However, no emails or phone calls have been replied.

  • INRNG: I’ll add some thoughts in bullet points as well…. as ASO’s direct involvement, the Tour de France receives income from other sources. There’s PMU, sponsor of the green jersey points competition, which is the state-owned French sports betting company. Let’s also remember FDJ, the state lottery monopoly
  • there’s an obvious conflict of interest with the parent company being privileged to information. Let’s imagine a scenario where there’s a positive drugs test during the Tour de France. It is possible that the race organisation gets the news early before it is made public and that this information travels internally. If abused other entities within the Amaury corporate stable can adjust the sports trading book based on this private information. It’s not to say this happens but to illustrate the unique position of an event promoter that also, via sister companies, has a sports book on the race
  • All ASO races have specific rules forbidding riders and their entourage from promoting and taking part in sports betting upon threat of disqualification for the individual and even the whole team, presumably to protect against their exploitation of insider information
  • Match fixing is illegal in several countries and many sports. But cycling? Doing deals with your rivals is an accepted but often hidden practice in pro cycling. How long this can continue remains to be seen. For the sake of exaggeration imagine Nairo Quintana and Marcel Kittel in a two-up breakaway. They lead by 5 minutes with 1km to go. Everyone is live-betting on Kittel winning the sprint but it turns out the pair have done a deal, Quintana wins the stage as Kittel gets the race leader’s jersey. That’s fixing and creates a false market in the betting.
  • In addition here’s yet another example of a UCI rule that’s ignored by all. Once again the governing body needs an audit of its rulebook to decide which rules should be enforced and which ones should be scrapped. A governing body that struggles uphold its own rules has a crisis of legitimacy

This is a guest piece by Mikkel Condé. You can follow him on Twitter as mrconde and visit his website c-cycling right now for daily Tour de Suisse previews.

33 thoughts on “ASO, the UCI and Sports Betting”

  1. Interesting piece. It seems Amaury has extended its tentacles into places where many can question their integrity.

    UCI again is powerless against the gorilla in the cycling room.

    As much as I love cycling, I am being turned off by ASO/RCS ‘s ever increasing domination and control over the future of the sport. Personally, I hope a breakaway cycling league gets formed where the majority of the stars and outside financial players can thumb their noses at the current power structure.

    • I’d stop short of including RCS in the domination category, the story is the Giro has been propped up by the RAI TV money for years. I do think ASO has too much control, but without their euros the sport would be in serious trouble. Their tentacles seem to reach pretty much everywhere these days and when the talk of revenue-sharing with the pro teams comes up, I keep saying this will only make things worse as ASO is the only entity with any real revenue – so if their money gets shared out, one can bet they’re one way or another going to get MORE control, not less. UCI has a boatload of conflict-of-interest issues to sort out, I’m not sure this one should be the first to be tackled.

    • Don’t be so sure ASO is the only bad actor. As much as ASO’s races dominate the “new” calendar under the coming reforms, the UCI’s annual financial report is looking better than ever.

      It seems UCI is measuring success by revenue.

  2. There are other potential problems with the ever increasing popularity of online betting…. Imagine you bet $10, 000 on rider B. You are watching the race on top of the hill near the finish. Amazingly, you see rider B coming ahead, but alas rider C — a stronger finisher — is right there with him. So just to be sure you “accidentally” fall in front of C, or push him so hard he has to stop so as to not collide with rider B.
    Voila! All you have to do now is collect your winnings (and maybe throw away that World Champions jersey you were wearing at the time of the crime….)

    • What’s Rider A doing in all this?

      Similar things can happen in other sports. Eg. a streaker runs on the field stopping a goal or try with a few minutes to go. But it’s obviously a bigger problem in cycling with spectators being so close.

      • Merci, Oliver.
        Kidding aside, I must confess to still harboring an inordinate amount of ill-will toward the rainbow-clad lout. The film shows that he seemed to have a brief moment of self-awareness, perhaps even self-reproachment, only to be viewed again later playing the idiot. Love the sport, have a few on the mountain, shout encouragement, I’ve done it, but to insinuate yourself into the field of play? Impossibly bad form, let alone wearing a jersey you did not earn.
        My solution is a lead moto equipped with samurai swords. About knee high.

  3. Good luck with trying to get $10,000 on a rider in any race. The bookies will never lay a bet of that size and limit and block accounts that seem to know what they are doing. It’s funny you mention Quintana as I had backed him to win a stage in San Luis and he gifted it to Arredondo.. it happens and is always a danger, but generally riders do everything for a win. It’s knowing of injuries, sicknesses etc where they could be scope for skullduggery but again, it’s hard to really exploit it as you might know someone might not win a race but there are another 50 guys who could.

    • I once worked for an online exchange, but that was before I paid attention to cycling so I never looked at those markets, except to see there wasn’t much liquidity in them. Coming from following other sports with mostly binary outcomes, I couldn’t understand how anyone could bet on a bike race with so many variables and potential outcomes. But I suppose it’s quite like a horse race with 200 runners – form, parcours, weather. etc. taken into consideration and suddenly the number of probable winners is more manageable to assess. And if you’re laying the bet, as in horse racing, it’s easier to find a probable loser than a probable winner.

      Since an exchange offers a platform for users to place and offer bets to others (i.e. isn’t a bookmaker itself, though traditional bookmakers often provided much of the liquidity in markets where they were hedging their offline bets), the integrity of matches and races is crucial. And thankfully suspicious betting patterns and individuals (or syndicates) were detectable and traceable. I never heard of anything untoward on cycling markets….but, tennis anyone!? 😉

  4. This is a disaster waiting to happen, just wait until someone loses money on a bet and then sues a rider or team for fixing the race result.

  5. In effect, betting prices are determined by customer liquidity. To put this another way, prices move based on volume of money bet on any outcome by punters.

    The idea that ASO via BWIN can ‘set’ prices for the market is not realistic, particularly given that the exchanges generally have a wider selection of bet types in this sort of market than the fixed odds bookmakers. The post above is right that exchanges have relatively little liquidity (in real terms, money bet) on cycling as compared to other sports, but it is much more than fixed odds bookies take on the sport.

    In any event, BWIN France may be part owned by ASO, but doesn’t BWIN France operate as part of the wider BWIN group which is based operationally in Gibraltar, albeit quoted on the London market. The french business is a relatively small part of the wider BWIN operation so I can’t imagine that 28% of this reflects a large share of the wider PLC.

  6. Is it really fixing when two riders agree on who will win if that agreement is based solely on sporting grounds? As I see the necessary element of financial gain from either betting or from someone who stands to benefit ftom betting is missing here.

    A case in point: Sweden and Denmark are playing the last match at group stage. If the result is a draw with two goals each, both teams will advance, The score is 2-2 early in the second half, the rest is mere theater, but neither the players nor the coaches have bet on the result or been paid to influence the result.

  7. FYI, Qwerty

    Each bet is governed by the rules (or terms & conditions) that govern the contract entered into between the bookmaker and the gambler when the bet is struck. The T&C’s for cycling bets typically stipulate that the result for betting purposes is based on the podium results on the day. Any subsequent alteration – for example – as a result of a drugs ban or subsequent determination that a result was fixed would not alter the operation of the contract between the gambler and the bookie.

    I don’t think a court would find that a sportsman owes a contractual or fiduciary or other kind of duty to the gambler, and therefore the disgruntled gambler would be unable to take action against the sportsman in any event.

  8. Lisa Jacobs (lawyer, CA board member, former elite roadie and current Australian cyclocross champion) wrote an excellent longer article on this for Ride Cycling Review a couple of years ago.

    It’s a disaster waiting to happen unless the rules surrounding making agreements between riders and teams are clarified and made explicit.

      • Horse racing and football are two that spring to mind where riders / teams are penalised under specific rules to ensure sporting integrity. The football rules are probably the best example to consider here, certainly for GT’s. Clubs have been penalised for fielding a weakened team, the defence every time being “we are competing on multiple fronts and it was a justifiable decision to rest players on a Staurday if we have a more important match on a Wednesday”. Riders will happily loose the stage battle if it improves their chances in the GC war and teams will always enter agreements with others when it suits them, racing stage 5 with one eye on how best to tackle stage 10…….that’s tactics. You either ban such agreements and tie yourself in knots trying to identify breaches and enforce the rules or you allow them as part of racing. If you do allow them, given the tactical nature of racing you cannot expect teams to disclose any agreements. Take 2013 TdF (I forget the stage number) as an example. I have no idea if there was any formal agreement between Saxo and Belkin but imagine if they had to disclose before the days racing that they intended, given the opportunity, to attack in the cross winds to try open a timegap on Froome but not bother competing for the stage itself, it may have increased levels of transparency and integrity but the breakaway would not have worked as Sky (you would hope) would have been all over them.

        So either you try outlaw that type of agreement; teams do it anyway and just deny it. You allow it but insist on prior disclosure; totally spoils the racing. You allow it but insist they disclose after the fact; doesn’t help the punter who bet on somebody else for the stage win.

        • Stage 13! All the drama of a GT on a flat stage, whodhuvthunkit? Belkin and Quickstep were sharing a hotel and atleast one rider from those two teams was on record saying that they have collaborated on breaking up the field. Saxo is saying Rogers did a spur of the moment decision to try to break up the field.

  9. Thanks for this important article. The increasingly comfortable relationship (and ownership) between betting and sports is a worry, especially for cycling’s struggling reputation. The concern that you highlighted about the betting organisation having inside information would allow them to tip the odds against all gamblers / fans. It’s nice to know these organisations really care about their customers.

    I am more concerned about athletes below the top level fixing races. The pros have a lot at stake and already make good money. The continental, national and local teams however don’t have as much of a reputation and are barely making any money from cycling. Their marginal gains and opportunity costs of race fixing place them at a much higher risk of doing so.

  10. Every time I go onto the Sky Sport web site, I get an advert for SkyBet. Surely that is even more dodgy in relation to their sponsorship.

  11. ‘caveat emptor’ – surely anyone dumb enough to bet on any sport these days, without being aware that there is a fair chance the dice are loaded deserves to lose their money…
    it’s an open secret that in a stage racing tactical deals are done within stages relating to the overall result, so if you want to risk your money in that environment then go ahead, but don’t expect to moan about it after the event.

  12. the bigger risk to sport from betting seems to come from further afield than internal conflicts of interest. In football/cricket etc the risk is that athletes are being compromised, or conditions altered, to suit the need of offshore (”Asian’ often gets quoted, but I have no idea if this is just stereotyping) betting syndicates. I remember an attempt to cut the power to the floodlights at a Charlton Athletic game a few years ago for example. The prospect of a ‘spectator’ altering events as mentioned above (or a lowly domestique earning not very much taking out a top pro at an important moment) is much harder to spot or legislate against than Sky or the ASO risking their reputations trying to tweak the odds…

  13. Betting / match fixing / criminal influence / drugs and doping go hand in hand as officials and players are compromised (with small opportunities at first) leading to a conflict of interest trap that ends up with far more serious problems.

    I have a feeling we’ll be talking about this in 15-20 years in the same manner doping dominated discussion over the past couple of years. It’s ruined cricket and some football associations.

    There’s plenty of cycling bets available in Australia. All the major betting companies run books on races, include Tour de Swisse, let alone TdF. You can get odds on 25 riders, or for “any unnamed rider”. Stages and GC.

  14. This is the one subject that gives me cold sweat about my beloved sport. I’d feel better if cycling bets were downright outlawed. And I think a responsible fan shouldn’t bet money,

  15. I seem to remember a fair bit of controversy in F1 when Coulthard moved over for Hakkinen in the first race of one season – he said at the time that they had deal about who reached the first corner first would win. There was a bit of a scandal over the betting then. I think it later emerged (much later) that it was team orders further clouding the betting issue.

    I can imagine all sorts of scenarios where teams could engineer a victory(think of the odds you could have had on Tuft for the maglia rosa).

    I would feel sorry for the teams, the temptations are so great and the teams desperate to be whiter than white that there would inevitably be scandal and accusations that would damage them.

  16. The series by Lisa Jacobs is worth revisiting. She was asking questions about gambling in cycling a long time ago. I’ll find the files and publish the series online if anyone is interested. This is an important topic and it’s worthy of further discussion.

  17. I’m not sure there is such a big risk of match fixing. Unlike cricket or football (etc) there are not just two teams competing it’s nearer twenty-two and bets are placed on riders meaning around 200 variables on the field (never mind the complication of variable parcours). It’s so complicated (which is what I love about cycling) that situations like the ‘Nairo Quintana and Marcel Kittel in a two-up breakaway’ example will only come about within a race, all betting companies need to do is not allow in-game betting.
    Maybe there should be some rules on what can be bet upon and when, particularly if rider cams and team car cams stream live, but a gambler should accept the risks of very uncertain and complicated racing.

    But the blog post was about race organisers making a percentage from bets placed on a race, and the same organiser being involved in the book making which inevitably brings up the potential for match fixing not from the players on the field but from the field itself. (I’m imagining a field of sunflowers laughing as the peleton speeds by). Could level crossings be made to come down just after a breakaway passes? Could a race official get their car in the way or a moto-camera provide a leadout? I think all these would be way to obvious for a big race to get away with, maybe a little can be made from inside info but in a wider betting market even 0.5% difference can be noticeable and others can adjust accordingly . If a race is making money from bets then it’s in their interests to encourage a more open and exciting race – they could make more from this than through any insider information.

  18. Once again the governing body needs an audit of its rulebook to decide which rules should be enforced and which ones should be scrapped. A governing body that struggles uphold its own rules has a crisis of legitimacy

    Very well said.

    I’d argue the complexity of the rules works to the UCI’s advantage. We’ve seen the federation artfully interpret rules as another way to exercise control over every aspect of the sport without transparency/legitimacy.

  19. I don’t expect the UCI do watch smaller Belgium races. It is not unknown for the bookmakers to warn riders of the appearance of anti doping controls, rapidly followed by abandons. Non of this is a secret to those who follow the sport in Belgium. How you even try and control it is a completely different question.

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