By ROB GLOSTER -- Associated Press
SYDNEY, Australia -- Dismayed that athletes are free to bet on themselves or their opponents at the Sydney Games, the International Olympic Committee has vowed to adopt strict anti-gambling rules for future games.
The IOC has strongly discouraged athletes from betting, saying it could be a violation of Olympic ethics, but there is no specific provision in the Olympic charter outlawing gambling.
Keba Mbaye, chairman of the IOC ethics commission, acknowledged betting is "totally free in this country," but called on athletes and fans not to bet on the Sydney Games.
"It is in total contradiction of the ethical principle of Olympism," Mbaye said. "In the very near future, we will be presenting (amendments) in the charter that makes this very clear. We will have to have a provision in the charter -- that is certainly what the ethics commission is recommending."
Betting on the Olympics is not allowed in New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital. But it is legal in the Northern Territory, and the Centrebet agency based there can take bets from Sydney and other areas with its Internet betting service.
"It is counter to the spirit of Olympism," warned Mustapha Larfaoui, president of the international swimming federation. "It's like cancer that is going to metastasize and spread through the sport. We have to nip it in the bud."
Larfaoui and Mbaye were among the IOC members who expressed concern about gambling by Olympic athletes as the IOC opened its three-day general assembly session Monday.
Gerard Daffy, the sports betting manager at Centrebet, said his agency is setting a betting line on every event and game at the Olympics -- from archery to synchronized swimming. He expects to take in as much as $45 million in bets on the Sydney Games.
Olympic betting also is available in cities such as Las Vegas and London, but it is much lighter than in Australian cities -- where betting is an integral part of life.
In fact, the main press party for the Sydney Olympics will be held at a racetrack.
"Join your press colleagues in a private marquee in prime position track side at Rosehill Racecourse for an eight-race program," the invitation from Sydney Olympic organizers reads. "Watch, bet and enjoy Australia's favorite sporting pastime."
Some IOC members worry that a ban on betting could have an impact in nations where gambling or lotteries are used to finance sports. But while IOC member Franco Carraro said soccer has been financed by betting for many years in Italy, he feels Olympic athletes should not be allowed to gamble.
"Athletes who compete should not be able to bet," Carraro said. "What we cannot accept is that anyone bet on his or her results, or their competitor."