French Open organisers have failed in a major assault through the
courts aimed at shutting down internet betting on their tournament.
A screen shot of Ladbrokes' betting site
The landmark ruling was
delivered in a Belgian court in Liège yesterday with the defeat of the
Fédération Française de Tennis's claim that the online
bookmakers Ladbrokes, Betfair and Bwin are guilty of encouraging corruption in
tennis. A secondary claim that the companies' offer of tennis markets amounts
to profiteering by "parasites" was also thrown out and in both cases the
bookmakers were awarded costs.
The FFT brought its case following a
rash of incidents that have led to players being accused of fixing matches for
online betting stings. It claimed that the presence of betting markets
exploited "the name, reputation and renown" of the French Open and Paris
plaintiff is asking for, on the one hand, a total ban on online betting taken
by the Belgian public on the 2008 Roland Garros tournament and the Paris
Masters 2008 and, on the other hand, the annulment and reimbursement of bets
already taken by Belgian residents," noted the judgement.
The FFT was
represented by Jean-Marie Dupont, who cited the "Davydenko affair" - a case in
which the Russian world No4, Nikolay Davydenko, has been under investigation
for allegedly fixing a match at the Poland Open last August, following
suspicious betting patterns that led Betfair to void all bets. The judgement
cites Dupont's legal team for the FFT as saying: "Taking into account the
Davydenko affair and the events that followed, a normally prudent and diligent
economic operator would ... certainly abstain from practices that [present]
major risks to tournament organisers."
But even the appearance of
Dupont, Belgium's celebrity sports litigator who was effectively the architect
of football's Bosman ruling with his successful challenge of Fifa's rules, was
not enough to persuade the Liège court. It found in favour of the
bookmakers who had argued that gambling is a legal and ancestral practice in
sport that has never been challenged until now.
Indeed the bookmakers
successfully turned the argument against the players who are guilty of
match-fixing. "'Fixed' matches, as far as these may be established, are not
down to what the [bookmaker] has done but down to the 'manipulations' or
'attempts at corruption' of certain players with whom the [bookmaker] has no
links at all," said lawyers for the bookmakers. "Someone who offers a service
cannot be rendered responsible for an inappropriate use of that service if he
has taken steps to prevent such inappropriate use."
The court accepted
Betfair's numerous memoranda of understanding with tennis's governing bodies as
evidence of the steps it has taken as a "normally prudent and diligent"
The failure of the case has been met with immense relief in
the online gambling industry as it could have led to a domino effect of similar
cases in other jurisdictions. A parallel action is being fought in a Paris
court but yesterday's ruling will certainly not enhance the FFT's case.
And the FFT must now fight a counterclaim from Bwin in the Paris high
court. The bookmaker is suing the federation for damages it perceives it has
sustained to its reputation as a result of the FFT claim in the Liège
court that its actions facilitate fraud. "The internet is an extremely
efficient tool in providing operators with a perfect audit trail, one that can,
where appropriate, be shared with regulators and other authorities in order to
trace bets and hence provide valuable evidence in the fight against fraud in
sports," said the European gambling industry's trade association, EGBA, in a
"In contrast to the views of the FFT, any match-fixing would
penalise bookmakers severely as they take financial risk when setting odds for
all sporting events."