Match-Fixing – doping’s biggest rival as the scourge of modern day sports

‘Fair play’, ‘respect’,  –v- ‘winning is everything’ and ‘sport is business’.  These are two conflicting cultures in global and national sports which help us to understand why match fixing is now seen as a bigger threat to the integrity of sport by global sports bodies than doping.

Just ask Indian Cricket, US Basketball, German, Italian Portuguese, Russian and Brazilian Football and  World Snooker. That’s without even mentioning the likes of Boxing, Horse Racing or Motor Sports.  No sport is untouched.  No level is untouchable.

Snooker player and former World No. 5, Stephen Lee, was recently found guilty of match fixing and spot-fixing in seven fixtures between 2008 and 2009. Lee was given a 12 year ban, the longest the sport has ever given. Fellow perpetrators included the player’s manager and then sponsor. The ban was given amid speculation that the incident was one of many within the sport, with Ronnie O’Sullivan tweeting “I’ve heard there’s many more players who throw snooker matches. I suppose Steve Lee was just caught out”. In 2010, former World No. 1 John Higgins was given a six month ban for failing to report an approach for match fixing. Whilst, O’Sullivan himself revealed in his recent autobiography that he was offered £20,000 to lose a Premier League match 10 years ago.

Match Fixing is a sophisticated affair which has come under the scrutiny of Europol and Scotland Yard. The latter led an investigation into a betting scandal that shrouded the world of International Cricket in August 2010. Three cricketers from Pakistan’s national team were interviewed by Scotland Yard regarding the timed delivery of “no-balls” – where the bowler oversteps the line – during a test match against England.  Undercover reporters, posed as representatives of a gambling cartel, allegedly paid £150,000 to be told exactly when the “no-balls” would be delivered during the game. This arrangement is referred to as “Spot-fixing”. The three players involved have now been jailed for their involvement with particular blame assigned for damage caused to “the image and integrity of what was once a game, but is now a business”.

Match fixing is not a new phenomenon in the world of sport. The act of gambling itself pre-dates recorded history; however the connection between the two is long lived. Cheating was first recorded in the Ancient Olympics in Athens, when Eupolus of Thessaly bribed opponent boxers in the 98th Olympiad in order to guarantee his victory. The offenders’ fines used to pay for “Zanes”, bronze statues which depicted their transgression and warned other athletes to refrain from doing the same.

So players have always been aware that serious consequences exist for those who engage in sporting fraud. A serious misdemeanor can prevent one earning their livelihood in a sport they once mastered. Stephen Lee will be fifty years old before the expiry of his recent ban; the extent of his earning potential succinctly cut short.

In the world of football the endemic of match-fixing is a topic of regular commentary. In July 2013 eight Italian players from the Italian Football Federation faced charges relating to match-fixing whilst six players in Australia were charged for similar actions in September. The frequency in which incidents of this nature are reported is worrying.  In February, Europol announced details of an investigation which uncovered a criminal network suspected of fixing hundreds of football matches, including matches within the Champions League and World Cup Qualifiers. Last year FIFA imposed a worldwide ban on four English football players pending a court case in Australia regarding their involvement in match fixing with Melbourne-based team Southern Stars. The Turkish football club Fenerbahce were banned from the 2011-12 Champions League due to accusations of match-fixing and will face an additional two seasons on the side-line after losing an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against a UEFA sanction for match fixing in August. Similarly Turkish club Besiktas have been excluded from the European Europa League 2013-14 for the same offence.

Why has match-fixing become so widespread?

Money carries a strong influence in the world of sports nowadays and corruption is present in all walks of life including sport. For the last 20 years or more doping has perhaps been regarded as the greatest scourge in the world of competitive sports. Match-fixing like doping is another form of cheating, however the motivation is altogether financially driven, rather than the desire to win at all costs which seems to drive athletes to dope.

An average athlete who earns a reasonable living from a professional or semi-professional sporting career can significantly enhance his or her financial income by participating in match-fixing or spot-fixing. Sports Governing Bodies have perhaps not given match-fixing and spot-fixing the attention it deserved in times past which may have led to a perception of corruption in certain sports. It would appear to be less morally questionable for an athlete to participate in match-fixing where there is a perception that a particular sport is corrupt. Therefore it is crucial that Sports Governing Bodies are seen to be combatting the problems of match-fixing and spot fixing. They cannot simply rely on what is being done behind closed doors to rectify the problem.

What measures are being taken by sports bodies and government to prevent it?

The Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (the “WPBSA”), Nigel Mawer, an ex-Scotland Yard Detective, has called for betting markets to be monitored in order to keep track of potential activities. These comments were made subsequent to the WPBSA’s engagement of the International Centre for Sports Security (“ICSS”). The ICSS specialises in sports integrity and the monitoring of international sports betting and already provides similar services to the European Professional Football Leagues and the International Ice Hockey Federation.

In the context of professional football, FIFPro (the worldwide representative organisation for all professional football players) have recently announced its preparations for an education and prevention programme to fit match fixing in football. The project has received a European Union grant and aims to raise awareness on the dangers of match fixing amongst players, referees and others. The project is also seeking to develop an online reporting system – the system is said to be developing a “player app” for smartphones allowing players to immediately report incidents anonymously. In general, UEFA and FIFPro are working towards creating a joint Code of Conduct against match fixing which will be implemented and monitored by the both bodies.

In recent times the Spanish General Directorate of Gaming Affairs has held meetings with some of the main licensed online sport bookmakers with the intention of collaborating and implementing a coordinated strategy to fight against match fixing practices in Spain.

In the United Kingdom just prior to Christmas 2013 the ‘Protocol on the Appropriate Handling of Incidents Falling Under both Criminal and Football Regulatory Jurisdiction’ was signed by the following signatories – The Crown Prosecution Service, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Football Association, and the Football Association of Wales. The Protocol is not specific to match fixing or spot-fixing however, it is a positive step towards providing guidance to Sports Governing Bodies as to how to deal with corruption of all sorts which occurs on the playing field. The Protocol also aims to provide guidance on the troublesome issue of concurrent jurisdiction and when Sports Governing Bodies should hand over the investigation of corrupt activity to the relevant Authorities.

Transparency International in its 2013 report entitled “Fair Play – Strengthening Integrity and transparency in Cricket” has called for the International Cricket Council (ICC) and its member countries to put in place protection for whistleblowers so that participants can report incidents of match-fixing, spot-fixing and corruption in confidence. The report has also called for adequate resources for anti-corruption investigations and enforcement of sanctions by the ICC and member countries.

The Financial Action Task Force in their 2009 report Money Laundering through the Football Sector recommended that countries should consider adopting measures that allow such proceeds or instrumentalities to be confiscated without requiring a criminal conviction. Many commentators have showed their favour for a system such as this in order to deter parties from match-fixing. Many countries have such a system in place, for example in Ireland we have the Criminal Assets Bureau which can seize assets from individuals where it is found that such assets were the proceeds of criminal activity.

The International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) recently announced its establishment of a special unit to tackle match fixing and illegal betting. So far there have been few incidents of match fixing or illegal beating in the Olympics but the initiative perhaps reflects the anxiety felt in respect of what is considered to be a real threat against the world of sport.

The regularity and intensity of match fixing scandals might be explained by the Siamese relationship between betting companies and sports sponsorship or  the saturation of gambling media with sports broadcasting or maybe the increased vigilance of police forces and their national governing bodies.  Governing Bodies are naïve if they believe that their sport cannot be infiltrated. In late 2013 the PFAI (Professional Footballers Association of Ireland) representatives finally accepted that the League of Ireland is vulnerable to match fixing.  So what is your organisation doing to address it within your rules?

Larry Fenelon is a partner and sports law specialist in Ogier Leman.

This publication is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice. No liability is accepted by Ogier Leman for any action taken or not taken in reliance on the information set out in this publication. Professional or legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this publication. Any and all information is subject to change.

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