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Dutch sports dilemma on cooperation with betting industry

The Hague, March 8 (IANS)

More and more sports organisations in Europe are concluding agreements with international online sports betting operators, with the Netherlands now also in the start-up phase of debating opportunities and threats.

Betting companies are currently familiar names on the shirts of Europe’s top soccer clubs, like Spanish giants Real Madrid.

However, with the recent revelations of Europol on widespread match-fixing in European soccer still a fresh memory, some Dutch sports officials are wary of doing business with betting organisations, including legal ones. The fear of loss of reputation of the sport is great.

During a meeting at the TMC Asser Institute in The Hague, a center for international and European law, this week the advantages and dangers of cooperation between the Dutch sports and betting world were discussed.

In general, the need for new revenues is great in sports, especially now that the sponsorship revenues have declined as a result of the financial crisis.

For this reason, cooperation between sports organisations and online betting operators for sponsoring their organisation or licensing their audiovisual rights might be a great opportunity.

“We are taking a serious look at the developments in this field,” said Jelle Beuker, operational director of the Cooperation Eerste Divisie, the organization of the second soccer league in the Netherlands, to Xinhua.

“What does it bring us and what not? What can we do and what shouldn’t we do? We must also pay attention to the dark sides, which are match-fixing and gambling addiction. We must talk about that together, for me that’s more important than the commercial side. How can we solve or reduce these issues.”

Dutch basketball is one of the front-runners in Dutch sport in terms of possible cooperation with gambling parties. The Federation Eredivisie Basketball (FEB), which organises the top league, offers the national league matches through online streaming to betting companies worldwide.

Jeroen van Veen, director of commercial affairs of the FEB, acknowledges that the combination of a small sports organization and large amounts of gambling money could be tricky.

“Of course we are concerned about the image of the sport and match-fixing, in which gamblers try to exert influence on the game,” said Van Veen.

Van Veen is aware of the dangers, but focuses on the possible positive aspects, like rising revenues. The only question is how much revenue it would bring.

“Maybe 50 to 100 euros per betting operator per match. But with a multitude of operators and competitions it can be very lucrative, because there is little or no investment attached. We can offer 200 matches, with for example 50 euros per match and 100 operators to deliver the images,” stated Van Veen.

Small federations, small clubs struggle to survive amid the financial crisis.

Some Dutch soccer clubs are also facing financial problems and all are looking for new sources of income. Jelle Beuker of the Cooperation Eerste Divisie, does not consider cooperation with the gambling industry as a solution for financial problems.

“I do not believe that,” he said. “To be financially healthy should be achieved through other areas. We will not get 100 million euros or so for the league, that is an illusion.”

Henk Kesler, former director of the Dutch football association KNVB and now member of the board of directors of the Netherlands Gaming Authority, warns the sports sector for too much optimism.

“The sports sector should not think that the goose with the golden eggs arrived and sports clubs can earn an incredible amount of money,” he said. “So many betting providers out there might even not be interested, or only interested in a small group of big clubs. For now, the sports organisations should not have too high expectations,” he said.

Currently the Netherlands has no legislation that allows online betting companies to enter the Dutch market, except for some local licensees that have a monopoly position. Although the bill is being prepared, it will take at least until January 2015 for the new legislation to come into force.

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