Fraud-busters pounce on sports counterfeit booty
22:17 GMT, 25 August 2012
As the Premier League kicked off last weekend, customs officers were seizing the largest haul of counterfeit football club merchandise ever to be unearthed in a single smuggling attempt, Inside Sport can reveal.
The cargo of fake goods — manufactured to look as though they were official products authorised by top clubs including Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool — were in a container aboard a ship that had come from China and that was searched at Southampton docks.
The illicit trade underlines the massive popularity of Premier League football and the demand for all kinds of knock-off merchandise linked to the clubs, and not just fake kits.
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Last weekend’s haul included 8,620 ashtrays, watches and lighters, and had a street value of 312,800, sources have confirmed. In the whole of last season, a total of 1 million of counterfeit Premier League goods were seized, mostly at ports aboard ships coming from Asia.
The task of preventing counterfeit goods is a multi-agency operation, including Customs, Trading Standards and a consultancy called Back Four Ltd, which works on brand protection.
‘Victims’ of such smuggling include not just clubs, brands and customers who might buy sub-standard products, but British taxpayers, because fake goods mostly end up being traded in the black economy, with no tax paid.
It is understood that last weekend’s haul was destined for a middle-man wholesaler for forwarding into the counterfeit marketplace.
Smuggling is often orchestrated by elements of organised crime, and this is routinely the case with fake ‘luxury brand’ goods. The authorities remain open-minded whether fake sports goods are linked to organised crime.
Seizures like last weekend’s are a result of ‘intelligence information, and luck’ according to one source. ‘We can’t stress how important tip-offs are. If fans see dodgy gear for sale, start by alerting Trading Standards.’
We want Harry, say Heroes
Supportive: Prince Harry has been praised by the Help for Heroes charity
Prince Harry has been taking flak these past few days for his high jinx in Las Vegas but he remains highly regarded by the many people he has aided at Help for Heroes, the charity for sick and wounded servicemen, veterans and their families.
‘He’s always been brilliantly supportive,’ said a source, who added that it would have been ‘fitting and welcome’ if Harry had been able to attend Wednesday’s Paralympic Games opening ceremony.
That now seems unlikely, although it is unclear whether recent events have dictated his absence. A ceremony source says wounded servicemen will play a role in a ‘dramatic and surprising’ sequence in which the Paralympic torch arrives at the main stadium.
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Golf U-turn on its bookies ban
The European golf Tour is poised for a U-turn on its strict anti-gambling policy — so the stars of the sport can continue to have access to lucrative prize money.
Bookmakers have been blocked from sponsoring events since Victor Chandler stopped backing the British Masters at Woburn in 2002.
This was intended to make it clear that golf did not condone betting in an era when so many other sports have had their reputations tarnished by match-fixing. In 2011, the Tour banned all players and caddies from any betting on any golf.
But with the recession biting, more than 10million wiped off the value of tournament sponsorships this year alone and seven tournaments cancelled through lack of sponsorship, bookies are likely to be allowed back as sponsors.
The harsh financial reality has hit the players attending this weekend’s Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. A noticeboard memo warns that the Andalucia Masters, a 2.5m event scheduled for Valderrama in mid-October, is now unlikely to go ahead.
Several leading members of the powerful European Tour committee, made up of senior players, are in favour of dropping the no-bookie sponsors policy. ‘In this tough economic climate,’ said one source. ‘We cannot afford to turn away any potential sponsors and the issue of bookmakers is going to be discussed.’
Tennis facing uneasy drugs questions
The US Open starts on Monday at Flushing Meadows with tennis facing uncomfortable questions about doping after a lifetime ban by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for a Spanish doctor, Luis Garcia del Moral, whose work with tainted cyclists includes Lance Armstrong.
He has also worked with tennis players at a Valencia academy, which has forced at least one player, Italy’s Sara Errani, to distance herself from him.
Her remarkable form this year includes a French Open final before being victim of a ‘golden set’ defeat at Wimbledon. Her brother Davide insists she rarely had contact with the shamed doctor, while the player has said her mostly brilliant year is down to a new racket.