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Protecting the purity of the Olympics

As a rise in sports betting leads to more scandals, the International Olympic Committee must safeguard athletes from corruption and ensure fair competition. A new IOC hot line is one good step.

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The mascot for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil is seen on the top of the Sugarloaf cable car in Rio de Janeiro.

Reuters

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Fans of the Olympics will be able to more than simply watch the next summer Games, which are being held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The International Olympic Committee decided this week to set up a hot line for anyone to report match fixing and other manipulation of the athletic competitions.

The IOC, which is the umbrella organization for the different sports in the Games, has lately become very worried about the corrupting influence of sports betting worldwide. Scandals have hit several professional sports in recent years, especially soccer, setting off alarms about whether criminal gambling syndicates might reach the amateur athletes, coaches, judges, and others who participate in the world’s most prestigious sport event.

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Last year, the IOC began official cooperation with Interpol, the international police agency, to fight off sports fixing and other corruption. And it wants each of its 28 sports federations to participate in its “Integrity Betting Intelligence System.” This electronic network was set up to monitor suspicious betting activity across major sports. The new hot line is just one part of the alert system. The IOC promises “100 percent anonymity” for any whistle-blower.

Doping scandals have already tarnished many sports and the IOC now wants to hold a line against gambling’s influence. It rightly seeks to maintain the purity of the Games. “The ultimate goal of all this is to protect the clean athletes and to give them, as far as we can, fair competition,” says IOC President Thomas Bach.

The work of the IOC will not be made any easier after the Nevada Gaming Commission decided in January to legalize sports betting on the Olympics. Such wagering had been barred for years simply out of concern for the integrity of the Olympics. But as Nevada looks to become a global center for digital gaming, it is willing to drop such concerns.

Nevada is also worried about New Jersey’s move toward legalized sports betting. That state’s effort, however, faces strong opposition in court from the big pro sports leagues. New Jersey is challenging a 1992 law passed by Congress, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which prohibits states other than Nevada from authorizing sports betting.

One temptation among sports organizations is to condone wagering on their events as a way to keep the interest of fans. With the Internet allowing easier ways to gamble, sports groups may foresee larger audiences for their sports. The IOC is smart to tighten up its ethical rules and conduct among Olympic athletes. And enlisting the public to help spot corruption will only ensure the Games survive as a contest of honest and transparent competition among the best in each sport. Talent and teamwork should remain the purpose of any sport.