English match-fixing scandals – the 10 stand out issues - Part 1Kevin Carpenter
Since the match-fixing storm hit England late in 2013 much has been written and said across the media by a variety of interested parties including journalists and lawyers. In this two-part blog Kevin Carpenter highlights and provides comment on what he sees as the main issues.
On Thursday 28th November 2013 the dreaded (but entirely predictable) happened: match-fixing hit English sport full force. The undercover reporting that made the front page of The Daily Telegraph national newspaper that day was the first of two scandals to hit English football in the latter stages of 2013. The first related to match-fixing in the semi-professional game and the second to spot-fixing in the professional game. I, and other people who work in what can now be described as an 'anti-match-fixing industry', had predicted on more than one occasion this was going to happen sooner rather than later. There was an air of inevitability as English sport, in particular football, had taken a laissez faire approach to the threat of match-fixing, as many sports and jurisdictions do.
During this uneasy period for English sport there have been various people passing comment, some informed and others not so, on the issue of match-fixing both in England and globally. As we move into 2014, and as the two scandals progress, it seems appropriate to pick out and comment on some of the key issues that have arisen out of these scandals.
1. Difference between match-fixing and spot-fixing
This is closely connected with point 2 below in that to understand the dynamics about why match-fixing and spot-fixing occur one must understand the economics of global sports betting markets, both in the regulated and unregulated sectors.
Match-fixing is only attractive to global betting syndicates and organised crime where there is sufficient liquidity in the betting markets, therefore two such markets offered which are used to fix matches are the final result and the total number of goals.
Spot-fixing occurs in betting markets such as time of yellow cards or total number of throw-ins, and is often used a gateway to convince participants to match-fix. This is why it is important, despite the lower amounts and rewards involved, for sport to take spot-fixing seriously because of its effect on the perception of integrity of a particular sport. Spot-fixing is also less obvious, which is why it is easier to convince participants at higher levels of football to take part; as has been the case in England with the spot-fixing allegations made in relation to matches in the fully professional Football League. Sport administrators, the police and other interested stakeholders must understand this fundamental difference between the two offences so that resources and competences can be apportioned appropriately. To understand the differences in greater depth read this excellent article by sports betting expert and journalist Ed Hawkins.
2. Fundamental misunderstanding of sports betting markets
Many people have come out and said that the proper response to the scandals should be to ban betting on lower league semi-professional football to prevent match-fixing and to restrict certain types of bets on professional football to prevent spot-fixing. This is all well and good in the regulated European sports betting sector, and companies operating in this space could be lobbied to this effect, however how do people presume we are going to convince the largest Asian operators (i.e. SBOBET, IBCBET, 188BET), who have bigger turnovers worldwide than Coca-Cola for example, to listen to what we would like in England and stop offering markets and taking bets on these matches? These Asian operators are completely unregulated, as are the markets themselves, over which nobody has any regulatory power and these entities cannot be compelled to do anything.
3. Influence of Asian gamblers and organised crime syndicates
Many lay people in England, and in other jurisdictions, cannot believe matches are fixed by gambling syndicates originating often from Asia and backed by global networks of organised crime. However, this fact is now indisputable given with the first English scandal it was a Singaporean national caught on film explaining how matches were to be fixed who had flown into the country specifically for that purpose. This man, and another with dual UK-Singapore nationality, have been arrested and already appeared in Court on criminal charges. The man in the undercover recording says his boss is a Mr Wilson Raj Perumal.
In describing to you the background of Mr Perumal you may begin to understand why match-fixing is a truly global problem. Mr Perumal is himself a Singaporean national and has for some time been known to football and police authorities around the world as orchestrating match-fixing activities. In 2010, he notably approached the South African Football Association, posing as a FIFA Match Agent, and proceeded to essentially take over the running of the Association prior to the World Cup being held there that same year. In doing so he proceeded to arrange a number of fixed international friendly matches involving the South African national team just weeks prior to the tournament.
However, at the same time he was also co-ordinating match-fixing activities across Europe, including in Finland where he was ultimately arrested and imprisoned for 12 months (a meagre sentence most people would agree). Following his release he was then passed to Hungarian authorities where he is currently under 'hotel arrest' but clearly has access to communication equipment as he is still getting people to corrupt 'the beautiful game' across the globe under his instruction, including in England.
4. Age of participants who fix
When discussions arise regarding education and prevention for match-fixing, it is usually younger players that are targeted. One can see why, as the earlier you are able to educate, the more well-informed individuals are likely to be about the threat. However Declan Hill, an academic and investigative journalist in this area shows in his new book, based on his PhD thesis, that the one robust factor regarding those people who have been convicted of match-fixing is: the older you are the more likely you are to fix. Logically this should not be surprising and has been evident in the scandals in England. Sam Sodje, who also fell foul of an undercover reporter's video camera claiming to be able to influence younger players to spot-fix for money, is a very experienced and well-respected player in the English game.
There is a need to re-evaluate the education programmes and monitoring of all players. As anybody who has played team sport will tell you, the older people in the team have a significant degree of influence over the motivations and behaviour of that team. This is due to a combination of having less to lose being at the end of their career, more people to provide for (i.e. married with a family) and/or having incurred a significant amount of debt through whatever means (often gambling on football or other sports). This also highlights the need (which I have been calling for some time) for greater involvement of, and research by, psychologists so that sport and law enforcement can better understand what I believe are a multitude of reasons, other than simply money, why participants choose to match or spot fix.
5. Role of agents
One of the people arrested for the first English scandal was Delroy Facey, a former Premier League footballer, who apparently has in recent times been acting as an agent. No matter how powerful organised crime is, exhibited through the use of duress and violence, to establish the relationship of trust, which leads to fixing games, they need access to the participants. What people are better placed in football to give access to players than agents? There is a wider debate going on in world football at the moment about the regulation of agents, but there has been little discussion of the impact they can have on players betting and fixing which needs to be addressed given the power of control and access agents have with the position of trust they hold.
In Part 2 of this blog Kevin will discuss his remaining 5 key issues arising from the English scandals including whistleblowing mechanisms and the role of sponsors.
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- English match-fixing scandals – the 10 stand out issues - Part 2
About the Author
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.