The top story in the UK media today is about alleged corruption in English football. Someone said to be a “fixer” for betting syndicates was secretly recorded boasting that the results of English lower-league matches and even international matches could be bought, once the price was right. Six people, including three players, have been arrested by the UK’s new National Crime Agency. There are lots of details in the Daily Telegraph

We won’t comment on the details of this case at the moment. But it’s interesting to consider the legal implications of match-fixing in general, both in criminal and civil law.

The applicable criminal laws will be the Bribery Act and perhaps its predecessor, the Prevention of Corruption Act, along with fraud , money-laundering and conspiracy offences. The Bribery Act carries a maximum sentence of ten years and large fines are also available to the courts.

In civil law of course rogue employees would be subject to disciplinary procedures and the special penalties imposed by the football authorities. If any clubs were complicit they could face major fines, points-deductions, possible relegation and even insolvency. If problems were widespread one can imagine law-suits by sponsors, television rights holders and other commercial partners.

What about the fans? Could they get refunds on tickets to matches said to have been fixed? It would need a huge level of complicity by clubs to emerge before a case could be made out.

There’s no evidence to support this at present. But perceptions matter. If fans become suspicious that they are being duped they may vote with their feet, stay at home and cancel subscriptions to sports channels. This would do enormous harm to the multi-billion dollar UK football sector. We think the football authorities should address these risks thoroughly, and quickly.