Exactly who is responsible for combatting match fixing?

Published 26 August 2014 | Authored by: Thomas Barnard, Hannah Clipston
It’s a constant stream of debate: where does responsibility lie for preventing and investigating match fixing and corruption in sport?
 
Should it be the responsibility of international and national governing bodies, the organisations that typically have a direct contractual link with the athletes themselves, the targets of corrupt activity?
Or should executive agencies (and INTERPOL at an international level) bear the brunt of the responsibility for weeding out criminal rings and corrupt players?
 
Such agencies usually have the most powerful resources available to them (certainly in a non-financial sense) and the knowledge and expertise of investigating and prosecuting criminal activity. But do they need specific legislation to aid their investigations?
 
Others suggest that the bookmaking industry should take a leading role in the fight to combat match-fixing. After all, it is the bookmaking industry that, of all the players concerned, has the most direct interface with the match-fixers themselves. The industry also derives revenue from illegal betting (albeit not deliberately, of course) and is, conversely, at serious financial risk from rigged bets.
 
The structure of the sporting sector, just like many others, means that it’s not necessarily appropriate for a single body or entity to take charge of the problem. Some suggest therefore that a new body, similar to the World Anti-Doping Agency, should be established to combat match fixing and corruption in sport. A great idea, but one that leaves the pertinent question of funding unanswered.
 
Clearly, there’s no easy solution to the problem.
 

How are match fixing cases being dealt with in the UK?

Recent developments in the UK might leave some to conclude that the current ad-hoc approach is coping adequately with the problem.
 

Match fixing in football: Sankaran and Ganeshan

On 17 June 2014, Chann Sankaran and Krishna Ganeshan (both Singaporean) were convicted at Birmingham Crown Court of conspiracy to commit bribery.1 The convictions followed a high profile investigation into match fixing in the lower leagues of English football (specifically matches in League Two and Conference South), and could land the pair with fines and terms of imprisonment of up to 10 years.2 
 
Interestingly, the convictions, pursuant to sections 1 and 2 of the Bribery Act 2010, were made under legislation not specifically aimed at match fixing in sport.3 If the Bribery Act is sufficient to deal with this instance of match fixing (it being a classic case of a ring leader paying a player to influence the outcome of a match so as to allow the ring leader to place a bet on the outcome of the game) then it is questionable whether specific legislation is needed at all.
 

 

Likewise, the prosecutions call into question the need for a dedicated agency tasked with investigating and prosecuting corruption cases in the sports industry. In this instance Sankaran and Ganeshan were prosecuted by the National Crime Agency.4 
 
The NCA, itself only operational from October 2013, was established to combat serious and organised crime in the UK. It conducted its investigation in close quarters with the relevant governing body, the Football Association, as well as the Gambling Commission.5 Again, some will take this holistic approach as evidencing the argument that the current systems and powers are more than adequate to combat corruption in sport.
 
The fact that the investigation was successful is not the whole of the story though. The Sankaran and Ganeshan case is one concerned solely with activity in the United Kingdom. Although both are Singaporean, the activities they were prosecuted for took place on these shores. 
 
This rather begs the question as to whether the current regime is adequate to deal with an international problem, and one that many see as revolving around the loosely regulated Asian betting industry.
 

Match-fixing in cricket: Naved Arif Gondal

On 18 June 2014, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) imposed a lifetime ban on former Sussex and Pakistan cricketer Naved Arif for match fixing offences.6 
 
Although not a criminal conviction, the Arif case illustrates nicely the approach and remit of national governing bodies to clamp down on corruption. 
 
The investigation into Arif was conducted by the ECB pursuant to its Anti-Corruption Code7 and, thanks to a joined up approach of the national and international cricket federations8, the lifetime ban will effectively represents a worldwide ban from the game. One would hope that would have a deterrent effect.
 
The approach of the ECB is a positive move and illustrative of the steps that should be taken to clamp down on activity which undermines the integrity of sport where that activity is not necessarily serious enough to warrant a criminal enquiry. 
 
Further, many consider that clubs and governing bodies, not criminal investigators should, certainly in the first instance, investigate on-field activity. The ECB’s investigation into Arif demonstrates that the ECB at least is capable of doing so.
 

Comment

Both the Sankaran/Ganesham and Arif matters nicely illustrate the current approaches taken to clamp down on corruption in sport. They also demonstrate that current processes, legislation and bodies do – in certain circumstances at least – have sufficient teeth. 
 
Whether they undermine the need for a wholesale change in approach to corruption is one matter, but they certainly suggest that the status quo should be maintained whilst a viable and economically feasible alternative is looked into and developed with care.
 

An international problem

Although the above cases resulted in criminal convictions, the offences were all prosecuted under the laws of England and Wales. 
 
The issue of prosecuting offences in other jurisdictions, whether in Europe or worldwide, is still a major concern: not all jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies have suitable legislation available to them.
 

Europe

The Council of Europe adopted the “Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions on 9 July 2014.9 The Convention provides a framework pursuant to which European Member States (and governments more widely, should they wish) must establish policies and procedures that clamp down on match-fixing and corruption in sport. The Convention includes (non-exhaustively) measurers relating to:
  • Sporting organisations and event organisers;
  • The role of education in combating corruption in sport;
  • The financing of sports organisations;
  • Sports betting operators; and
  • The importance of information sharing between relevant entities. 
The Convention is laudable in its aims. However, it must be remembered that it only carries weight as a recommendation; so, unlike measures implemented by the European Union, does not carry the full force of law. It therefore remains to be seen if the Convention will have any real or lasting impact on the fight to combat corruption in sport.
 
 

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About the Author

Thomas Barnard

Thomas Barnard

Tom is a solicitor specialising in commercial litigation and sports law. He acts for a wide variety of high-profile athletes, including cricketers, footballers, gymnasts and cyclists.

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Hannah Clipston

Hannah Clipston

Hannah is a partner specialising in resolving disputes for companies in the leisure and travel industry including Greenwich Leisure Limited, Nuffield Health and All Leisure Plc. She trained and worked in a City firm for 5 years and her practice covers High Court litigation, arbitration and mediation. Hannah also heads up the firm’s Sport and Leisure sector group.
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