Straightening the curved lines from law enforcement to sports integrity

Phil Suddick
Phil Suddick - Head of Sport and Safeguarding
Feb 14, 2023
Our Head of Sport reflects on a career investigating serious crime and sports corruption - and why the sporting world has a hefty challenge in keeping pace with evolving threats.

I am approaching a year in my new position at Clue Software and what an exciting time to be part of a rapidly expanding software company which is doing so many things right.

What do I mean by right? I mean in growing in a scalable way with community and innovation at its heart. But also, right in the true sense of its definition: helping to achieve moral good.

As a central platform for managing end-to-end investigations and intelligence, Clue is helping investigation professionals to surface and identify connections between data. While this leads to better efficiencies and more robust outcomes from vital and difficult work, it also means investigation professionals have a better opportunity to disrupt and prevent threats before they develop.

As many of my connections may know, I have spent my career seeking to protect what is right and prevent wrongdoing.

A thirty-year career in policing saw me tasked with managing a specialised test purchase unit buying Class A drugs in covert operations, to spending many years working in a highly secret role investigating organised corruption in the police and government agencies. I have been part of a small unit tasked with finding some of the world’s most wanted criminals: terrorists, murderers, serial and contract killers, and serious and organised criminals.

Throughout these posts, it became clear that when the curved lines of crime – drug trafficking, corruption, and serious and organised criminal activity – intersected and intervened, people got involved in a complex spiral of chaos which was very difficult to break.

Solving these problems could and should have been made easier by using central intelligence and investigation systems that can accurately capture, record, connect and facilitate the sharing of data.

Protecting sports integrity

I began to truly realise this potential when, eight years ago, I moved to pastures new in international sport. Armed with lessons from my previous law enforcement activity, I went to try and straighten those curved lines again, investigating the corruption, drugs, match manipulation and serious and organised criminal activity that plagues the brilliant world of sport.

I joined a leading organisation that understood the advantages of effective data-led intelligence and investigations, and I quickly sought to improve existing processes.

I knew a solution was required which would enable a global investigatory body to work anywhere in the world, 24-7. The solution needed to be both agile and portable and empower investigators to use data held in the system to its best advantage. Adopting an early iteration of Clue, I had the opportunity and motivation to implement an innovative and powerful solution that would set the standard for other sports governing bodies to follow.

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Clue for sports integrity allowed us to make links between complex investigations where organised crime had infiltrated the sport. The software contributed directly by making possible the management and review of tens of thousands of documents – often in different languages – so that proactive, actionable lines of enquiry could be undertaken.

The impact of this work was significant and quickly recognised by a wider sports integrity community. I became involved in several influential working groups, including the Sports Betting Integrity Forum and the Sports Betting Group. These groups aimed to foster relationships within the sports and gaming community and to identify, from a strategic and tactical viewpoint, a better way of sharing information, thereby making a real impact on match manipulation.

I also strived to improve the exchange of information and ongoing dialogue between the governing body and law enforcement, with colleagues in both Europol and Interpol. This ensured information was exchanged and organised crime groups were prosecuted.

The work continues…

Fast forward to the here and now. At Clue, I help many sports evaluate their current challenges and readiness to deal with the ever-growing threats they face to protect athletes and participants, and the environments they train and compete in.

Many sports organisations are aware of the need to improve their intelligence and investigation management process. But many others are hampered by a lack of awareness of and adequate tools to protect against the same core threats that affect them all and are often intricately linked and co-dependent, namely:

Corruption: Driven by greed for money and power, high-level corruption is eroding the reputation of sport and its benefits to individuals, societies, and economies by diverting them from intended recipients.

Match manipulation: Organised crime groups continue to leverage a growing, sophisticated, and easily accessible global betting market to exploit an expanding list of sports and in-play events at the cost of coerced athletes’ and officials’ hard-earned careers.

Safeguarding (including online hate & race crime): The positive impacts of sport depend on the development and protection of safe, healthy, and diverse & inclusive environments. Too often, these environments fail athletes, while risks have evolved with the internet and social media.

Doping: Pressures and demands to perform and be competitive – as well as advances in prohibited medications which are becoming harder to detect – continue to lead athletes and their teams to cheat with performance-enhancing drugs.

The case for clean sport

I accept these challenges are complex and need integrated frameworks and funding, but it never ceases to amaze me how some sports that generate significant amounts of revenue, will not invest in solutions that will protect their athletes and the reputation of their sport.

There still exists a naivety among sports organisations that ‘we don’t have a problem’ or if we do have a problem ‘we can manage it on a spreadsheet.’ The cost of making mistakes and any subsequent reputational risk can be astronomical – many sports organisations are simply unequipped to detect and manage these evolving threats.

Furthermore, investigatory activity needs to be documented, compliant, auditable and capable of making people accountable. The days of the spreadsheet to manage serious allegations involving athletes or sport governance should and must be put behind us. Experienced and lawfully audacious investigators with training and time will change things for the better provided they are given the right tools.

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Advertisers, sponsors, the gambling industry, event and ticket sales, and merchandisers all have a personal stake in the premise that the sport and its athletes are honest, clean, and safe.

The public, who in effect fund all these industries, crave the same guarantee. Sport needs good governance, robust yet fair rules for its participants and genuine transparency. There needs to be trust between the sport and the public who consume and participate.

Organised crime and its tentacles loom large over some sports. There is money to be made and trust me, these sophisticated business networks will make it.

Sports corruption in its many guises forms a cog in the machinery of money generation. They can influence the movement and churn speed of the cog by ignoring jurisdictional boundaries and rules. These groups are agile, digitised, flexible and highly capable. We need to up our game and catch up or they will leave us further behind.

Follow Phil on LinkedIn for regular sport integrity insights, and learn more about Clue for Sport Integrity

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