On the evening of 3 June, Transparency International (“TI”) held an excellent and instructive seminar at which Sean Hamil (Director, Birkbeck Sport Business Centre) presented TI-UK's research into match-fixing in football in the UK. This was followed by a fascinating panel discussion involving Andy Harvey (Birkbeck Sport Business Centre) and David Lampitt (Chief Executive of Supporters Direct) on whether and how match-fixing in football should be tackled and whether sporting associations in general should tackle corruption on a collective and global basis.
Findings of Transparency International research
The seminar follows a series of reports and studies conducted by TI which either focus on or address corruption in sport:
- A first Working Paper in 2009 which highlighted the threat of corruption in sport in certain areas such as match-fixing, weak and opaque governance structures, transfers, construction, sponsorship and media. It contained recommendations on taking proactive steps to seize the initiative on this issue to promote integrity within sport.
- In June 2011, TI’s report entitled “Corruption in the UK: Overview and policy recommendations” asserted that the UK public see sport as the second most corrupt sector in the UK after political parties. This follows a series of highly publicised scandals involving match-fixing in snooker, spot-fixing in cricket, cheating in rugby and irregular payments concerning football player transfers.
- Following corruption scandals at FIFA, in August 2011 TI published “Safe hands: building integrity and transparency at FIFA” which outlined specific actions FIFA should make to institute fundamental changes to its governance structures in order to regain public trust and show that fair play on the pitch is just as equally relevant and important off it.
- In October 2012, TI, in conjunction with Tim Daniel of Edwards Wildman, published a report on whether the UK needed an Anti-Corruption Agency which suggested that in the context of sport, a dedicated UK anti-corruption body could assist in cooperating with other foreign agencies to fight corruption in international sport.
- TI teamed up with the German Football League and the Association of European Football Leagues to develop a pilot prevention and education programme called “Staying on Side” in order to develop materials that can be used by football leagues across Europe to educate those sporting participants that are manipulated by illegal betting rings to fix matches such as young players, professionals and match officials.
TI has most recently undertaken further research into match-fixing in football in conjunction with Sean Hamil and Haim Levi (Co-ordinator and Research Assistant at Birkbeck). His conclusion was that there was barely any public evidence of match-fixing in football in the UK. However, that is not to say it does not take place in global football as highlighted by the shameful Calciopoli scandal in Italy in 2006, the banning of 58 Chinese Football Association officials for match-fixing earlier this year, and the recent Bochum police prosecutions and investigations in Germany. Whilst not discussed at the seminar, Europol also announced in February 2013 that it was involved in investigating more than 380 football matches in Europe including top-flight domestic league matches and qualifiers in the European Championship and World Cup with a total of 425 match officials, club officials, players, and serious criminals alleged to be complicit.
Sean Hamil asked whether a lack of evidence of match-fixing in the UK suggested no proactive steps needed to be taken here to combat the risk. He rightly concluded, in our view, that this was the wrong approach. Mr Hamil had very real concerns that the tentacles of serious organised crime, that have infiltrated other areas of sport, could find football in the UK a soft target. He pointed to a reactive approach to date by sports organisations to the problem of corruption, for example, in tennis following the Sopot Open allegations, in cricket after the Pakistani spot-fixing scandal of 2010 and various corruption revelations in horse racing. Why wait for UK football to have its own major scandal before taking significant preventative measures? The introduction in the UK of the Sports Betting Integrity Unit, under the auspices of the Gambling Commission, with the power to investigate irregular betting patterns and prosecute under the Gambling Act for cheating, is a positive start. However, it only deals with specific issues, and cannot be expected to eradicate corruption in sport single-handedly.
Match-fixing fuelled by betting is only one aspect of corruption in football. David Lampitt referred to other areas of the game that are ripe for abuse:
- He highlighted the 2009 FATF study entitled “Money Laundering through the Football Sector”. It concluded that “money laundering through the football sector is revealed to be deeper and more complex than previously understood”. There was evidence that ownership of football clubs or players, the transfer market, image rights and sponsorship or advertising arrangements are used to hide and launder illicit money. Startlingly, FATF reported that some cases “show that the football sector is also used as a vehicle for perpetrating various other criminal activities such as trafficking in human beings, corruption, drugs trafficking (doping) and tax offences”
- He flagged third party ownership, which is outlawed in the UK, as an ongoing concern. One of the major arguments against third party ownership is that if players on opposing teams are owned by the same third party owners then that third party owner could in theory manipulate and direct performance of their players.
Solutions to combat corruption
The panellists made it clear that corruption in football and sport as a whole, particularly match-fixing, involved serious heavyweight criminal elements. Accordingly, measures to combat corruption had to be similarly tough, as organised crime syndicates will not be deterred by the present measures in place. Sean Hamil proposed his top three solutions to deal with corruption:
- The introduction of a global anti-corruption body covering all sport which could issue harsh penalties;
- A clear definition of match-fixing; and
- The need for awareness raising and proper education for all individuals in sport on the wrongs and dangers of corruption.
David Lampitt agreed with the idea of a global anti-corruption sports body and the harmonisation of the legal framework across sporting sectors. He added that the ability to postpone, disrupt or replay sporting events, where there was suspicion or evidence of wrongdoing, may also be an area worth considering. However, although it is tricky to see how that would work on a practical level it should not be ruled out.
Andy Harvey was not convinced that an over-arching organisation dealing with corruption would have the resources to combat widespread wrongdoing, even if it could be established, which he doubted, as he felt there would be too much opposition to its introduction. He pointed to shortcomings of analogous organisations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency which gave him pause for thought on introducing an anti-corruption equivalent. His view was that greater international cooperation amongst police forces with a focus on the criminal gangs instigating unlawful acts such as match-fixing would have a greater impact.
In November 2012 the Council of Europe adopted the Recommendation on promotion of the integrity of sport against manipulation of results, the EU Council the Conclusions on combating match-fixing, and the European Parliament the Resolution on the European Dimension of Sport. These texts highlight the problem of match-fixing and call on national governments to ensure their legislation sanctions match-fixing in accordance with the seriousness of the conduct (Council of Europe Recommendation) and to make illegal activities affecting the integrity of sport a criminal offence (European Parliament Resolution). Some countries responded including France and Sweden.
In April 2013 the European Parliament issued a resolution asking all European Union member states to include match-fixing in their national criminal law and establish common minimum sanctions and to create specialist law enforcement units to tackle match-fixing. Mirroring some of the recommendations suggested by the panellists at the TI talk, the resolution also calls for EU member states to improve European law cooperation through joint investigation teams and cooperation between prosecution authorities, and to emphasise the need for measures to combat illegal betting websites and anonymous betting. The resolution recommended that this cooperation should be extended to non-EU members states particularly those countries referred to as “Asian betting havens” focussed on gambling on European matches. The resolution also confirmed the desirability of ensuring sports organisations educate sportspersons and the public on the evils of match-fixing.
At UNESCO’s international conference of sports ministers held in Berlin last week there was wholesale agreement on the need to take global action against match-fixing and other types of corruption in sport. However, this ‘Berlin Declaration’ is only a rallying call for greater collaboration and preventative action; it contains no actual requirements.
Separately, there has been talk within the EU of the introduction of a new European crime in respect of sports manipulation. It is worth noting that in the UK we already have the legislative framework to punish those involved in match-fixing and corruption generally. Match-fixing could be prosecuted under Chapter 19 of the Gambling Act 2005 (cheating or aiding and abetting cheating), Chapter 45 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 (conspiracy), and most recently the Bribery Act 2010 (offering or receiving a bribe). Perhaps a specific law here or internationally criminalising match-fixing might be useful. But where there is evidence of wrongdoing, it requires the will to prosecute, which was evident in the case of Asif, Amir and Butt. In most cases to date, the prosecuting authorities have left it for the relevant sporting organisations to issue sanctions. In order truly deter the criminal masterminds and puppeteers behind match-fixing in sport, more criminal investigations and prosecutions need to be brought both in the UK and abroad. If the prosecuting authorities believe further legislation is required in the UK to achieve such an aim, then consideration should be given to implementing it.
Match-fixing, as highlighted above, does not present the only area of corruption in sport. Use of the transfer market and club ownership to launder money should also be stamped out using the UK’s money laundering regulations which make it an offence to handle the proceeds of crime.
The instigation of more criminal prosecutions in the sporting sector is easier said than done and requires the Government to commit more resources to support investigators and prosecutors. With bodies like the Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) under increasing pressure to use its limited resources to prosecute serious corporate corruption, it is unsurprising if prosecution of, for example, match-fixing under the Bribery Act, is low on the SFO’s priority list.
We agree that a uniform definition of match-fixing should be formulated, and that would be the starting point for introducing a new criminal offence. A definition of match-fixing was agreed in an EU September 2011 resolution: “The manipulation of sports results covers the arrangement on an irregular alteration of the course or the result of a sporting competition or any of its particular events (e.g. matches, races…) in order to obtain financial advantage, for oneself or for others, and remove all or part of the uncertainty normally associated with the results of a competition”. That definition is helpful, but will require further scrutiny if it is to be adopted internationally and uniformly throughout sport. For example, what does “irregular alteration” mean? Should the definition and offence be contingent on “removing all or part of the uncertainty associated” with sport or the necessity for somebody to obtain “financial advantage”? Perhaps a more basic but detailed definition such as that adopted by the Australian Sport Minister in the 2011 communiqué would work which uses clearer terminology and lists examples of misconduct.
Integrity in sport is critical if sport is to continue to inspire, enthral and generate financial rewards. If ethical reasons for rooting out corruption do not inspire stakeholders to take action, then financial motivations may do so. As Sean Hamill explained at yesterday’s talk, the soiling of a sport or a sporting brand as a result of corruption can have a huge economic impact. Italian football has still not recovered from the Calciopoli episode which resulted in declining attendances and revenues.
TI has once again highlighted the need for considerable further debate on the issue of corruption in sport and those measures to combat it. The popularity, influence and pure economics of football globally have the ability to both corrupt and attract the corrupter. Match-fixing is not endemic in football but like a disease it has the capacity to spread quickly and widely. As with any business, preventing corruption must come from the top, and if the relevant sporting governing bodies such as FIFA do not take serious proactive steps to fight the threat of the cancer of corruption and issue serious penalties and sanctions, then governments and the EU may need to step in. Alexandra Wrage’s resignation in April 2013 from FIFA’s Independence Governance Committee because she was frustrated at the neutering of proposals for reform indicate that significant institutional changes may take time.