3 conferences, 2 weeks, 1 global problem: match-fixing – Part 1

Published 13 June 2013 | Authored by: Kevin Carpenter

Over the past two weeks I have been fortunate to have been involved with three prestigious sports law conferences in different parts of the world. All of which focussed solely on or covered the hot topic of match-fixing. This two-part blog is a reflection on the themes and issues which arose out of the three conferences.

First I attended the Blackstone Chambers Sports Law Conference in London, then had the privilege to speak at LawAccord 2013 in St Petersburg, which is part of the SportAccord International Convention, and the “Don’t Fix It” training event in Budapest which was organised by the world football players’ union FIFPro and supported by the European Union. 

The panel on match-fixing at the Blackstone conference featured some of the most prominent legal minds not just in sports law in the UK but in the law full stop.  One of the speakers was Michael Beloff QC who has sat on many of the recent Court of Arbitration for Sport hearings in relation to match-fixing.  He discussed some of the issues as regards detecting corruption and in particular the need to protect the anonymity of witnesses to encourage them to come forward with details of alleged cases.  

We then heard from the former Solicitor General of India, Harish Salvi SC, who gave an insight into sporting corruption in India. This was just at the beginning of what was emerging regarding the most recent Indian Premier League spot-fixing scandal, little did he or the audience know what dramatic events were to unfold in the coming days.   The Head of Legal Compliance for a national governing body in the UK revealed his frustration at the lack of appetite from the police in the United Kingdom to prosecute alleged cases of match-fixing due to a lack of funds and the thought that “why would players do it?”.  I took this one further when I spoke in St Petersburg by saying that compared to other integrity offences, particularly doping, match-fixing is “not fashionable”.

Given I have written and blogged previously on the proportionality of sanctions in relation to match-fixing, it was the words of Lord David Pannick QC, a preeminent human rights lawyer who has also acted in sports cases, which were of most interest.  Although he said that life bans were in principle defensible due to the difficulty of detection and the deterrent effect required, he believes there are legal principles which can be applied to challenge the validity of life bans in the future. Not least of which that there may be a breach of human rights law because a life ban means you are banned from any activity in relation to a sport and therefore, in essence, you are losing your livelihood in its entirety even for a minor match-fixing infringement.  

Having had plenty of time to consider this subsequently, I am strongly of the opinion that a case will come before the Court of Arbitration for Sport whereby arguments on the proportionality of a life ban will win through. There was the inevitable question put to the panel as regards the possibility of a WADA-type international body for match-fixing?  The response from one of the panel was one that I had not thought of previously, in that an international body is necessary because there is a reluctance on the part of national governing bodies to act due to the disadvantages of both sporting competitiveness and commercial attractiveness of their sports if they so-called “out” one of their own.

The title of the LawAccord International Convention was ‘What regulatory framework is needed to combat match-fixing in sport?’. The morning conference was split into two distinct sections: one focussing on the role of sports governing bodies and the other one looking at the role of national and international laws. The panels were preceded by a key note speech from the leading academic and investigative journalist, Declan Hill, whose presentation provoked debate among the panellists and attendees later in the morning.  

As part of the first panel, Dennis Oswald, a Court of Arbitration for Sport arbitrator and presidential candidate for the International Olympic Committee, lamented the fact that many countries do not have the necessary legal basis to enable sports bodies to act effectively in relation to match-fixing.  There was also a short presentation from a member of the International Olympic Committee who talked about the success of the Joint Assessment Unit (‘JAU’) at the London 2012 Olympic Games. I have analysed the JAU previously and believe it can be a basis for an effective worldwide body in the future. A legal representative of FIFA’s early warning betting system (‘EWS’) revealed that there is now a new ethics and disciplinary reporting online system from FIFA which is completely confidential and anonymous and is available to anyone who has any suspicions in relation to match-fixing.  These sort of reporting mechanisms are absolutely essential to be able to gather the evidence required to secure successful convictions in this field.  A former Chief Executive of the International Cricket Council was strongly of the opinion that (ironically given the forum) it was time to stop talking about match-fixing and actually do something about it.  

A pertinent comment made by a member of the audience was how were sports men and women supposed to have any faith in sports governing bodies to fight match-fixing when there are many instances of corruption that still arise at the very highest levels of sports governance?  It was somewhat regrettable that one of the comments made in response was that although there is indeed corrupt governance in sport that ultimately it is the players on the field who carry out the fixing and it is their fault! Things became even more surreal as another member of the audience, a former head of a global governing body, passed comment to the panel that it was his opinion that this issue would be best served by making all sports gambling illegal!?  Sat in the front row of the audience it is fair to say metaphorically, if not physically, my head hit the table with a loud thud! When will sports and governments understand that regulation of sports betting is needed, not prohibition, which simply drives into the black market and breeds corruption?

In the second part of this I will discuss the second panel of LawAccord and what emerged regarding match-fixing education from the “Don’t Fix It” training event.

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About the Author

Kevin Carpenter

Kevin Carpenter

Kevin is a advisor and member of the editorial board for LawInSport, having previously acted as editor. In his day-to-day work he has two roles: as the Principal for his own consultancy business Captivate Legal & Sports Solutions, and Special Counsel for Sports Integrity at leading global sports technology and data company Genius Sports.

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