Reproduced from an article written by Gary Rice, Aidan Healy and Niall Sexton and published by the Sunday Independent on 7 May 2017.
It is rare for the spotlight to be shone on potential match-fixing in Ireland. Reports of an eye-watering €400,000 being wagered on a first division game in the League of Ireland and the apparent evidence of the UEFA report certainly suggest the investigation into the Athlone Town and Longford Town match will garner significant attention in the coming weeks and months.
Unlike other countries, there is little data available on the problem of gambling in Ireland. A UCD study from 2015 indicated that 40,000 people in Ireland are known to have a gambling addiction. There is plenty of colloquial evidence, however, of sports people with a gambling problem. The number of high profile GAA players who have confessed to gambling addictions means that it is not just highly paid professionals like Joey Barton who apparently use gambling as a release from the highly pressurised environment of elite sport.
The corruption of sporting events dates back to the Olympics in Ancient Greece. However, technology and innovation means that you can now bet 24/7 from anywhere in the world on almost any conceivable aspect of a sporting event. Not just that but you can ‘lay' or bet on a team, player, athlete, horse or greyhound to lose. As a result, corruption in sport has been described by Michel Platini as a 'mortal danger' to sport and by the IOC as 'the biggest threat facing sports'. While doping involves breaking the rules to win, match-fixing or spot-fixing involves competitors not trying their best and it is that which strikes at the very essence of sport.
It is a trans-national problem. Illegal Asian gambling markets are estimated to be worth $450 billion. Fixing is reported to be one of ways organised criminals launder and indeed supplement their ill-gotten gains.
There is only so much national sporting bodies like the FAI can do. They have rules in place dealing with the manipulation of matches and players betting on matches, as well as rules requiring players to immediately report if they are approached by anyone in connection with influencing the course of a match. However well-drafted a sports body's rules may be, they are of little use if they cannot be policed and enforced effectively and sports bodies simply don’t have the resources or legal powers to do this.
The sports betting industry in Ireland is regulated in Ireland by the Betting Act 1931. This was amended in 2015 to provide for a licensing regime for betting exchanges and intermediaries but there is no regulation of the industry in any real sense. Under Alan Shatter, the Department of Justice published the general scheme of the Gambling Control Bill in 2013, which provides for an offence of 'manipulation with intent to alter outcome'. When enacted this legislation would make it an offence for any participant in sport, including players, management, medical and technical support personnel, to accept any payment, gift or reward in return for agreeing or, in so far as that person can, to bring about a particular score or outcome. The Government's Spring / Summer Legislative Programme 2017 suggests that pre-legislative scrutiny of the Gambling Control Bill is underway, but it remains to be seen if and when the Government will see fit to fully regulate the betting industry.
The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that in addition to opening its own investigation, the FAI sent a copy of UEFA's report to An Garda Síochána. Match-fixing may amount to fraud under Section 6 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, but there has yet to be such a case in Ireland.
National measures are only one piece of the puzzle. The chair of the Sorbonne research programme which considered the manipulation of sports events has said "[a]n international agreement on the manipulation of sport competition, coordinated by an overarching global platform, is now an urgent necessity". It is widely accepted at this juncture that the current structures and rules are wholly inadequate. Unfortunately, to date, there has been no global response to gambling-related corruption in sport. This contrasts starkly with anti-doping in sport. The fight against doping in sport is led by the World Anti-Doping Agency which is jointly funded by sports bodies and governments and underpinned by a United Nations Convention and a world anti-doping code binding on governments and sports respectively.
Recent years have seen repeated calls for a world-anti-corruption agency with similar mandate and powers but little progress. In 2014, the Council of Europe agreed a Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions. It has yet to come into force and Ireland has neither signed it nor ratified it. Until an effective global response, led by governments, establishes a similar structure which encompasses sports, police and enforcement agencies and the global betting industry, the clear and present danger to sport will remain.