Well-known sports law professor Marjan Olfers appears to have substantial, albeit indirect financial connections to De Lotto.

Last week, Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reported that European Lotteries (EL) paid Professor Marjan Olfers, of the Free University Amsterdam (VU), to write a critical opinion of another researcher’s match fixing study.

The study criticized by Professor Olfers, The Odds of Match Fixing, written by Ben van Rompuy of the Asser Institute and the Free University of Brussels (VUB), challenged several claims about the alleged risks generated by certain types of sports bets. “It is not clear whether a party with commercial interests commissioned the study,” Olfers charged, who – it should be noted – was paid by an interested party herself.

Naturally, we reached out to Professor Olfers to ask for comment. “Both public bodies and commercial parties may ask for a scholarly opinion,” Olfers said. “As far as the latter are concerned, I always refrain from discussing contents or findings with them. I remain strictly independent and I always fully disclose who, or which party, paid for the opinion. This particular opinion, moreover, is merely an elaboration of findings I had already expressed in public beforehand.”

“Professor by special appointment”

This latter defense is, at second glance, perhaps less convincing than may appear at first sight. For it should be noted that Ms Olfers is a “professor by special appointment” only, which means that an external party – not the Free University of Amsterdam – is funding both her chair and salary.

As it turns out, Professor Olfers’ chair is being financed by the “Stichting Wetenschappelijk onderzoek Sport en Recht,” an organization of which very little information is publicly available, but which is registered at the very same address as various sports associations, as well as an office of the NOC*NSF, the overall coordinating Dutch sports organization.

This rather strongly suggests that the “Stichting Wetenschappelijk onderzoek Sport en Recht” is both connected to, and, since professors don’t come cheap, financially dependent on the NOC*NSF.

Funded by De Lotto?

In their turn, NOC*NSF and individual sports associations are primarily being funded by Dutch sports lottery De Lotto.

Hence, Professor Olfers may very well have a rather large, even if indirect, personal stake in the continuing financial success of De Lotto.

Perhaps tellingly, when we specifically asked Professor Olfers whether there existed other organizations, besides European Lotteries, with which she had financial ties, either directly or indirectly, and which could have a commercial interest in her opinion, she declined to comment.

Foreign competition

De Lotto, of course, would benefit immensely from limited competition from foreign sports betting operators following the enactment, expected in 2017, of the pending remote gaming bill.

In other words, even before European Lotteries (of which De Lotto is a member organization!) commissioned her to write her match fixing opinion, Professor Olfers may already have had a substantial personal interest in pleading for restrictions on certain forms of sports betting.

Not so much in order to promote the integrity of sports, but rather to make life harder for potential future competitors of the same lottery that may, albeit through a number of intermediary steps, be very well paying her monthly salary.

The future of sports funding

All this is not to say there exist no legitimate concerns regarding match fixing and corruption in sports. Nor is it incomprehensible that NOC*NSF might be seriously worried about what foreign competition for De Lotto could mean for sports funding in the Netherlands.

The role of charity lotteries in the funding of sports in the Netherlands is changing, as reporter John Volkers already pointed out back in November. In February, we witnessed the uproar when the Dutch cycling union signed a sponsorship agreement with Unibet, a future competitor of De Lotto.

Similar developments are taking place in other European countries.

We at Gaming in Holland think that in modern society the methods and means of sports funding are changing. Together with sports organizations and traditional lotteries, we aim to make this a key topic for discussion at the upcoming Gaming in Holland Conference.