By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The International Rugby Board's new stringent anti-corruption regulations are ways to stamp out illicit behavior in future rather than fight any current systemic corruption in the game, the sport's governing body in New Zealand said on Wednesday.
The IRB has ramped up their anti-corruption fight with warnings that people involved in match-fixing could face a lifetime ban while players even placing a bet on a game could be slapped with a one-year suspension.
The regulations, however, are seen as more preventive in nature, the New Zealand Rugby Union's general manager of professional rugby, Neil Sorensen, said.
"We haven't heard of anyone betting (illegally) on rugby but we don't want to risk it," Sorensen told Reuters. "But the more global that rugby gets and the more there is live television coverage to places where illegal betting is massive, the risks do increase.
"So the more that people understand the risks, the better they are able to deal with it in the future."
Sorensen added that gambling on rugby was relatively small on the worldwide sports betting market with the total wagered last year on the entire Super Rugby competition about NZ$600 million ($519.78 million).
A single one-day international cricket match could have as much as NZ$6 million wagered on it, he said.
Under the new regulations the NZRU said that almost 2,000 people involved in professional and semi-professional rugby within New Zealand would now be prevented from placing a bet on the sport anywhere in the world and they would be asked to sign a pledge to abide by the new conditions.
The IRB's list of people restricted from gambling, known as 'connected persons' included medical staff, administrators, player agents, friends and family members, Sorensen added.
"Under the rules I'm banned from betting and I can't ask my son to go and make a substantial bet for me based on what information I may have," he said.
"It (the breadth of the list) is quite onerous.
"It does seem a bit over the top and we understand and hear that, but to be perfectly honest the IRB and New Zealand rugby aren't really going to go after a grandmother putting $5 on her grandson to score a try."
Sorensen said the restrictions were principally geared towards information that may affect the outcome of a game, like injuries, tactics or team selections.
Anyone involved in that sort of activity could be banned for life and probably face criminal penalties, he said.
Players would also be warned that using social media platforms to disseminate information could be considered as breaching the regulations, though he said it would be a grey area.
"Sports betting is about knowing more than the average person on the street knows," he said.
"Players using social media would not be in trouble. We don't see that as being at the heart of potential corruption.
"(However) if (a player) tweeted 'look my ankle is dicky but I also understand that three guys in the forward pack might not start, keep to that to yourselves' then you're bordering on giving information that others don't have."
Sorensen said the NZRU had started an education campaign about the regulations and had visited the Otago Highlanders on Tuesday to educate the players and staff.
The four other Super Rugby franchises would also be visited along with the 14 semi-professional top-tier provincial unions.
"It is really the start of our educational campaign," he said. "We have begun telling the guys, look you can bet on anything you like as long as it's not rugby."
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)