Sport is a multi-billion dollar global business. This makes it very attractive to organised crime syndicates as it can result in substantial financial returns. The international increase in criminal match-fixing has been attributed to the proliferation of online unregulated betting, as well as the dramatic increase in online ‘live’ betting.

Match-fixing is commonly connected with persons placing bets on pre-arranged outcomes for financial returns. As sport becomes more globalised and commercial, the incentives and opportunities for match-fixing and related criminal activity are increasing.

Australasia has been identified as a region that has an increased risk of match-fixing and organised crime. This is partially attributed to New Zealand’s top sports people earning comparatively lower salaries when compared with their sporting counterparts overseas.

The implications of a major match-fixing scandal in New Zealand could be significant, considering sport contributes approximately $5.2 billion to the national economy annually. New Zealand has a hard earned reputation for being one of the world’s least corrupt countries, so any match-fixing allegations are likely to damage the integrity, growth and development of sport, not to mention the wider negative effects on the economy.

In response to recent publicity and the increasing national risk, legislation is now before parliament which would make match-fixing a crime and punishable by up to seven years imprisonment.

Crimes (Match-Fixing) Amendment Bill

The Crimes (Match-Fixing) Amendment Bill would amend the Crimes Act 1961 to address match-fixing risks presented by New Zealand’s hosting of the Cricket World Cup 2015 and the FIFA under 20 (football) World Cup 2015.

The Bill has been designed to address the most serious match-fixing activity where influencing a betting outcome is intended, by improperly manipulating a sporting match or race. The Bill is not designed to cover every type of match-fixing activity.

The operative provision of the Bill extends the scope of the current offence of obtaining benefits and/or causing loss by deception under s 240 of the Crimes Act 1961, to include any act or omission with intent to influence a betting outcome of an activity by manipulating the overall result or any event, other than for tactical or strategic sporting purposes.

This provision covers sporting competitions, games, matches, races, and rallies involving human participants (whether or not they also involve equipment, horses, vehicles, or vessels), and includes dog races.

At this stage, the explanatory note for the Bill states that the proposed changes will become law on 15 December 2014, although some commentators are calling for it to be brought forward.

The Bill will help clarify the legal position in New Zealand and establish criminal sanctions. Certain types of match-fixing behaviour may already fall within the ambit of certain sections of the Crimes Act and Secret Commissions Act. However, the Bill would bring serious match-fixing activities expressly within the existing offence of ‘obtaining by deception or causing loss by deception’.

As with most criminal laws, the Bill will not be retrospective in operation so any of the current rumours and allegations will not be covered.

If the Bill is implemented in its current form, any match-fixing activity undertaken wholly outside of New Zealand would be beyond the New Zealand authorities’ control. Hence it is presumed that conduct occurring wholly overseas but including a New Zealand player (for example a game in the subcontinent, with payment made in Europe) would not fall within the scope of the legislation.

The legislation would also not criminalise a player for using inside information for betting, which is instead dealt with under the recently introduced New Zealand Policy on Sports Match-Fixing and Related Corruption.

New Zealand Policy on Sports Match-Fixing and Related Corruption

Sports New Zealand has worked with national sporting organisations to develop a comprehensive sports match-fixing policy in response to emerging match-fixing threats.

The policy provides for a collaborative cross-sector approach, requiring sporting organisations, government bodies and the betting industry to take measures to prevent and address match-fixing. While the organisations are required to comply with the rules set by the new match-fixing and corruption code, the policy is not legally binding.

It is also worth mentioning that additional measures are being taken to tighten up New Zealand’s anti-corruption legislation, with The Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Legislation Bill expected to be introduced into Parliament later this year. This legislation is to set to strengthen New Zealand’s anti-bribery and corruption laws, bringing New Zealand up to speed with the risks presented by organised crime syndicates.

Conclusion

Match-fixing greatly diminishes sport’s purpose and appeal and if remaining unchecked, significantly reduces the financial and social rewards that sport provides to our nation. There is nothing more damaging than public doubt over the legitimacy of a sports result, something that is based on mutually agreed rules and fair play.

The legislative reform is intended to have a deterrent effect and reassure the public that the integrity of sport is intact. Though, whether the proposed criminal sanctions for match-fixing will effectively deter the morally-corrupt will undoubtedly be difficult to quantify.

However, the new legislation, together with the match-fixing and corruption policy, should provide a solid platform for sporting organisations to be proactive in dealing with this global assault on our cherished national sports. It is hoped that, through education and the cooperation of players, criminal match-fixing syndicates will be significantly weakened.  The integrity and future of sport depend on it.