IOC establishes betting unit, to work with gaming firms

ATHENS, Greece -- In an unprecedented move to keep illegal gambling and match-fixing out of the Olympics, the IOC is setting up a special unit to check for suspicious betting patterns during the Beijing Games.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said Friday that agreements have been signed with major betting companies for the first time to monitor any irregular gambling during the Aug. 8-24 Games.

"We rely on them to advise us if there is an abnormal pattern in betting and then they will advise us if something is suspicious," he said. "It is [in] their interest to work with us. It is [in] our interest to work with them because these betting companies definitely also want a clean sport."

If any suspect activity is detected, the IOC disciplinary commission will question those involved, Rogge said. The panel will report to the executive board, which has the power to take sanctions.

The decision follows a series of betting and fixing scandals and investigations in various professional sports, including soccer, cricket and tennis.

In December, Rogge and the IOC executive board were briefed by former London police chief Paul Condon, who has been conducting investigations into gambling and corruption in cricket. Condon said he did not believe the Olympics were particularly at risk, but that vigilance was required.

Rogge said the IOC would also be working with Interpol, the international police force, on betting and general security issues in Beijing.

"You should not imagine our unit as people in an enclosed and secluded bunker and with balaclavas over their head," he said. "It's not going to be the case. We'll have a team there that will work very closely together with the betting companies."

Meanwhile, Rogge said the IOC plans a commemoration during the Beijing Games for the victims of the May 12 earthquake that killed nearly 70,000 people in China.

"The IOC as a whole will have a ceremony of homage for the victims of the earthquake," Rogge said. "We are discussing with the Chinese when and how exactly and what form it will take. But definitely we will not start the Games without thinking of and recalling the victims."

Rogge said the Games could help uplift China following the quake in a similar way to how the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City affected the United States five months after the 9/11 attacks.

"These Games will mostly be the first moment of joy of Chinese people," he said. "These Games can be considered as something to rejoice."

Rogge also defended China's decision to take the torch relay through Tibet.

"The Chinese have expressed the wish to pass in all their provinces and regions," he said. "Tibet is a part of China and a region of China, so we think it is normal that they pass through Tibet."

In the wake of the protests which disrupted the torch relay in London, Paris and other cities, Rogge said the IOC was still considering whether to continue global relays in the future.

"We're not blind, neither naive," he said. "The torch has been utilized by protesters. Unfortunately, these protests have been violent. ... We will study this objectively."

Rogge, who had described the Olympics as being in "crisis" on April 7, said things have changed now that the torch relay has moved into China and calls for an international boycott of the Games have subsided.

"We are in a totally different situation," he said. "I am very, very optimistic in the quality of the Games."

On another issue, Rogge defended the IOC's decision to omit Doha, Qatar, from the shortlist of finalists for the 2016 Olympics. The IOC picked Chicago, Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro. While Doha was rated in a tie for third with Chicago in an IOC technical report, the committee rejected the city because it proposed holding the Games in October instead of the July 15-Aug. 31 window.

"I understand their disappointment, but the decision has been fair and been taken in the interests of the athletes," Rogge said. "Our consideration was not necessarily to please a country or not to please a country. Our consideration was what was best for the athletes of the world."

He denied that the IOC had previously told Doha that the October dates would not kill the bid.

"Doha asked for an exception," he said. "The exception was not granted because of international calendar and sporting calendar issues, simple as that. We have never given assurances to Doha whatsoever that their request would be honored."

Rogge also said he is hopeful of a solution to a dispute with the Iraqi government that threatens to keep Iraqi athletes out of the Beijing Games.

The IOC suspended Iraq's national Olympic body on Wednesday for "political interference" following the government's dissolution of the committee.

"We are thinking of the athletes as a matter of priority," Rogge said. "I'm optimistic that the solution can be found and I look forward to meeting with Iraqi officials."