Match fixing in Sport

14/08/2019 Steven Caetano, Adrian Pilcher

Match fixing in Sport a cancer’

The rapid growth of modern-day technology, coupled with the boom of the gambling industry (particularly on online platforms) and the globalisation of live sports broadcasting, has given rise to the ‘international phenomenon’ of match fixing, and an increased fear for the integrity of sports.

Described by the English and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) Disciplinary Panel as ‘a cancer that eats at the health and very existence of the game’, match fixing is detrimental to the sport and governing body in question, and has continuing repercussions.

With huge sums of money being pumped into many sports, they have now become big business. And, in the same way we have seen the lure of the illegal practice of insider trading, so too have we seen the appeal of easy and lucrative money applied to the world of sport through organised crime.

Here, our sports law team have highlighted how both sports governing bodies and law enforcement agencies are tackling match fixing with the current frameworks in place, as well as exploring other potential methods which could help reduce these immoral operations.

Can there be co-operation between Sports Governing Bodies & Law Enforcement Agencies?

Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said that: “there will be no progress on match-fixing unless governments agree to, and implement, a common legal framework, allowing justice to operate across borders…unless national authorities and the sports movement can agree on a single, recognised set of principles to guide governance structures.”

Enabling sports governing bodies and national law enforcement agencies to operate together is imperative to providing a collegiate approach, where both parties can align, bringing together their respective tools and expertise .

For example, the Golf’s PGA Tour Integrity Manual highlights that, if there is a parallel criminal investigation of a code violation, the PGA Tour is able to co-ordinate with the relevant law enforcement authorities at the ultimate discretion of the PGA Tour. Crucially, each covered person who is, or may be, subject to an investigation shall cooperate fully with that investigation; the failure of a covered person to comply will be deemed to be a violation.

Similarities in this approach can be seen with that of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in terms of athlete non-cooperation with anti-corruption investigators. Sanath Jayasuriya, a Sri-Lankan world cup winner, was handed a two-year suspension from all cricket related activities by the ICC after being found guilty of breaching two counts of the ICC’s anti-corruption code. In an interview with detectives in September 2017, Jayasuriya handed over two phones when asked to assist in the investigation, but failed to mention two other devices which may have been relevant to the investigation. We cannot stress the importance of cooperation with investigators at any level.

Assistance from law enforcement agencies to sports governing bodies could speed up processes for investigations. In cases of match fixing, where there may be substantial vital evidence in the content held in devices such as mobiles, a sports governing body investigation on an athlete’s mobile would reveal messages and phone numbers of those involved in the crime. However, using the tools and expertise provided by a law enforcement agency would help reveal any numbers which may appear as ‘withheld’ in the athlete’s device. The disclosure of withheld numbers and messages, as well as the geolocations of mobile phones, are also one of the positive aspects in having a law enforcement agency partaking in a parallel investigation. However, problems can arise when sports governing bodies are working across different jurisdictions. The differing approaches countries adopt when viewing private corruption can be a hindrance in combatting organised crime., even as far as some countries do not extend the application of private corruption to social activities such as sports.

For example, the way in which France and Egypt approach match-fixing are polar opposites. In France if a professional player was to engage in match-fixing, the offence would fall within private-sector corruption, with French prosecutors able to bring corruption charges together with charges for other criminal offences; Egypt on the other hand does not prosecute private corruption at all.

However, a good example of a country adapting to the changing state-of-play were the amendments made by the German Government in November 2017 to the German Criminal Code (GCC) which extended to persons (including athletes, coaches and referees) initiating and facilitating the betting fraud on the field of play.

The new provisions came into force after Mr Hoyzer, a professional German referee, had agreed to manipulate at least ten professional football matches in exchange for financial rewards. Mr Hoyzer was sentenced, under German law by the Federal Supreme Court of Justice (BGH), to two years and five months in prison for aiding fraud in six cases.

There are provisions which now allow for the passing of criminal sanctions in the event that parties agree to manipulate competitions of organised sport related to betting activities. A vital aspect of the new provisions is the fact that it extends, not only to professional athletes and coaches, but includes those participating in sports at amateur levels. This has become a necessity as the lower levels of sport do not always have access to riches that some of their professional counterparts are exposed to at higher levels, which can mean the lure to participate in match fixing is greater.

On the contrary, it does not require a connection to a sports bet, it is designed to cover any manipulations of sports competitions not related to betting. For example, anyone who offers an athlete or a coach a benefit for himself or for a third person, in return for the fact that he irregularly influences the process or the result of a professional sports competition, shall be liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine.

It was decided by the German government, based on the fact that professional sports carry a greater public interest, that the scope of these amendments would target any impact on sports integrity and credibility, caused by manipulation of a professional sport which could amount to justified criminal sanctions. This in itself should serve as a deterrent to any person/s who may want to make great financial gain through sports.

However, the new amendments have not come without criticism from German scholars, who consider that the integrity of sport is considered as too indeterminate to be qualified as a fundamental value of our society.

Questions have been raised as to why a mere promise to manipulate the outcome of a match can lead to imprisonment, whereas, for example, a severe foul showing no intention to play the ball does not generally lead to criminal liability. Inconsistencies, such as why teams who agree to draw are not covered by the scope of the amendments made to the GCC, have been raised; specifically that this should have been considered as the result would not then stem from a desire to win based on fair play principles, but would have come about as a result of manipulating the way that a particular competition is set up.

An alternative – co-operation between Sports Governing Bodies is key

The structure, in which states across the international spectrum have their legal statutory frameworks set up, makes it a seemingly impossible task of being able to fashion a clear and single way for sports governing bodies and law enforcement agencies to combat match-fixing together.

The fact that different countries have their own mechanisms and ideals in place with regards to how certain sporting federations within their jurisdiction should be governed makes cross border co-operation between sports governing bodies difficult (dependent on countries). To put this into context, a statement made by Guido Cipriani a member of the Italian Tennis Federation sums up the perhaps negative influences that legal frameworks in states can have, “the State may limit, or dictate, the way federations should run investigations and enforcement procedures (such as in Italy)”.

Therefore, it is vital to be open to other methods which combat match-fixing., which is possible through the cooperation of sports governing bodies. UEFA is a good example of a leading sports governing body in the fight against match-fixing, investing heavily to protect the integrity of European football. As a means of protecting the unpredictability that comes with the beautiful game, UEFA has financed various areas to reduce the chances, including the heavy investment in a network of integrity officers in each national association who work alongside local law enforcement agencies. In doing so, UEFA has also implemented education and prevention schemes for respective football associations.

There are also several other methods that UEFA have adopted to monitor criminal activities within football. One of the major advancements that UEFA has put in place to protect the integrity of the game, is the formal cooperation agreement made with the European law enforcement agency (Europol). In 2014, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed, facilitating the collaboration between UEFA and EUROPOL with the aim to fight the match-fixing in Europe. While this is not a legally binding document on either party, it seeks to achieve mutual coordination and ensure greater complementarity between UEFA and EUROPOL in the exchange of knowledge and support in investigations.

This serves as an example of the approach other governing bodies in different sporting spheres can adopt or consider to improve the defence mechanisms against match fixing on a national level.

Going forward

It is obvious that match fixing is a worldwide issue, and a co-ordinated international response is required to tackle the problem.

While the criticism levelled at criminal laws interfering in sports does not come as a surprise as there are many who believe it should be left to deal with internally by the sporting body, there are various tools and expertise that law enforcement agencies possess which can be of immense use to sports governing bodies, particularly as some sports governing bodies will lack the sufficient means to conduct a full and proper investigation. Working alongside a law enforcement agency would leave no stones unturned in regards to protecting the integrity of a sports competition.

The co-operation between sports governing bodies and law enforcement agencies is a subject that will always stir debate, but one thing is clear, an overnight decision or legislation will not eradicate organised crime in sports. But, in these modern times when many sports have extortionate sums of money being pumped into them, they are a business like any other commercial organisation and it is vital that more stringent measures and actions are taken before the unpredictability of sports events become predictable.                   

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