How are bookmakers going to settle ante-post football bets due to coronavirus?
Layers taking a pragmatic approach amid the chaos
The football authorities are wondering how they will finish their campaigns and bookmakers are also struggling to answer how they will settle ante-post football bets if the 2019-20 season cannot be completed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Premier League, EFL, FA and WSL on Friday agreed to postpone the professional game in England due to the outbreak with the intention of returning on April 4, while the Scottish FA board have suspended all domestic professional and grassroots football until further notice.
Next month's Masters golf is another cherished sporting event to be postponed and, while it is the Premier League's aim to reschedule the displaced fixtures when it is safe to do so, it is unclear when and how that will happen.
Should they fail to fulfil the fixtures - and the BBC report that experts believe it will be virtually impossible to resume by April 4 - it could leave bookmakers in a position of trying to come up with a settlement that isn't specifically covered in most of the rule books.
Ante-post football markets have been suspended and one bookmaker representative told Racing Post Sport: "We don't know what to do."
Others say they will make every effort to offer a fair settlement if things become complicated.
Betway's Alan Alger said: "We have rules to cover almost all eventualities – primarily if events are cancelled then bets would usually get voided.
"However, these are unprecedented times and we will need to consider the fair and pragmatic approach depending on how the relevant associations, leagues and ruling bodies decide to act to declare winners – competitions may be shortened, changed in format or abandoned completely.
"It really is too soon to comment further. Although we paid out on Liverpool to win the league before Christmas, so backers of Jurgen Klopp’s men have already got their money."
Several bookmakers have paid out on the Reds, who need six more points to win the Premier League title and are 25 points clear, but many other markets are less clear-cut.
Some punters have been rushing to beat the ante-post suspension, cashing out potentially valuable wagers in case they are voided. That option is now closed for the time being.
Coral spokesman John Hill said: "This is obviously an ever-changing situation but we need to see first how each sporting governing body will reschedule or alter their season or competition.
"As we gain more information we will be in a better position to address individual betting markets, although ideally each competition will be played to a conclusion."
Most bookmakers' ante-post football rules include the wording that bets are settled on the final league positions at the end of the scheduled season, which normally counters post-term point deductions and legal battles played out in the courts.
One odds-compiler, who understandably didn't want to be quoted given the fluid situation, was happy to share the kind of discussions that are being had on the trading floor.
He said: "If we use the example of the three options being mulled over by the Italian FA, one is to declare the title vacant, to assign European spots based on current standings with no relegation and if they go with this one I think most bets will be void.
"Their second option is to declare the season over with everything decided. I reckon this would be settled as an official result by us, although that's not for certain and I'm sure clubs would make legal challenges, which would cause even more problems.
"Thirdly, they are suggesting holding playoffs for the title and relegation. With this I think that will be an official result and therefore a payout for us, but like all of the scenarios I can't be 100 per cent certain on what we would do, never mind the rest of the industry.
"I also think there would have to be goodwill gesture payouts from bookmakers on certain markets such as Liverpool to win the league or something like Leeds to gain promotion would be a popular one if their season was voided."
Sporting Index have suspended all their long-term football markets, but the Betfair exchange remains open for business until they receive official confirmation from each competition’s governing body on how the final standings will be decided.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for the virus late on Thursday and Chelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi announced he had also been affected.
All Champions League and Europa League fixtures have been postponed and a decision on Euro 2020 will be announced on Tuesday.
If that is pushed back by a year there could be space in the calendar to complete domestic campaigns this summer, but those intent on getting their football fix this weekend will be able to watch the three National League divisions, which will go ahead as normal.
Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, said he hoped the postponement of the Masters "puts us in the best position to safely host the tournament at some later date." The decision came after golf's 'fifth Major' - the Players Championship - was postponed following the first round.
The Six Nations rugby union fixture between Wales and Scotland was another casualty, while England's cricket Test series in Sri Lanka has been postponed. The season-starting F1 Grand Prix in Australia was cancelled and the second and third rounds in Bahrain and Vietnam have been postponed with the first race expected to be in Europe at the end of May.
Most sports across north America have also been wiped out and US president Donald Trump suggested the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo could be postponed until next year, a switch so far ruled out by Japanese officials.
There has been money for 15-8 BBC Sports Personality of the Year favourite Tyson Fury to win the December award given the uncertainty as to whether many of the headline events planned for 2020 will take place.
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