National match-fixing policies: Australasia shows the way

Published 29 May 2014 | Authored by: Kevin Carpenter

Ever since a variety of match-fixing scandals began in the United Kingdom in late 2013, a number of issues have been raised in relation to the UK’s approach to this integrity threat.  One of which has been whether it is necessary for the UK to have a national policy on match-fixing encompassing all the key stakeholders?

In February 2014, I was fortunate enough to work alongside FIFA and INTERPOL at their Integrity in Sport Conference for the Oceania Football Confederation region held in Fiji. At this conference I became aware for the first time of the Australian 'National Policy on Match-Fixing in Sport’1 agreed by Australian government on 10 June 2011. At the Conference there were presentations by Football Federation Australia and the Australian government explaining how the UK’s Commonwealth cousins came to have a national policy following the Ryan Tandy match-fixing affair in rugby league2 and Australian Crime Commission’s ‘Threats to the Integrity of Professional Sport’ report3 and how successful, or otherwise, the policy had been to that point.

One of the countries that attended that Conference was New Zealand. It was clear from speaking to some of their delegates that they were also considering going down the same route as their Australasian neighbours by having their own national policy.  Indeed, the ‘New Zealand Policy on Sports Match-Fixing and Related Corruption’ was released in April 2014.4 Given the upcoming Sport and Recreation Alliance Sports Summit 2014 , which will be attended by the majority of the governing bodies in the UK, featuring a panel on ‘the fight against match fixing and the integrity of sport and recreation’, it seemed an appropriate time to take a look at these two national policies and decide whether a similar approach would be advantageous to protect the integrity of sport in the UK.

The Australian policy, agreed and signed by the federal government and all state governments, begins, “this Policy provides the platform for collaboration, and will be underpinned by legislation, regulation, codes of conduct and industry standards. It is recognised that Australia will best deal with the threat of match-fixing only if there is co-operation and goodwill between governments, sports organisations and the betting industry”. In Europe is still a significant stand-off and lack of goodwill between sport and the betting industry, particularly in continental Europe due to sport’s desire for a formal betting right (more of which later).

The foreword to the New Zealand policy echoes some of the words spoken by people within the upper echelons of sporting governance in the UK, “despite the continued integrity of New Zealand’s athletes and sport system, it would be naïve to think that we are immune from these international risks.” The policy intends to take pre-emptive steps to safeguard New Zealand’s athletes, coaches and support staff by giving them access to the tools and support they need.

An important recognition early in the Australian policy is that match-fixing, and the corruption that flows from it, is not limited to professional or high profile sporting codes. Little were they to know how prescient this would be, given the Southern Stars football match-fixing scandal that unravelled itself in 2013.

The definition of match-fixing conduct in both policies includes one item that I had not considered previously, which was the interference with the play, playing surfaces or equipment. This, I think, is intended to cover, for example the deliberate turning off of the floodlights that we saw in English football in the 1990s and allegedly orchestrated by the infamous Wilson Raj Perumal.

The New Zealand policy states explicitly that there are close parallels between the two countries.  Indeed, they group together what can be termed ‘Australasian risks’: 

  1. Australasian athletes are generally lower paid than their global peers; and 
  2. There are growing connections and shared time zones with Asia, which create significant opportunities for match-fixes, many of whom are located in Asia.  

Not only that but the New Zealand policy calls for a strong “trans-Tasman5 approach to match-fixing, given the sporting systems are closely linked and the number of New Zealand teams competing in Australian competitions, for example A League football and Super Rugby.

There are a few areas of the two policies that are worthy of further discussion and consideration in the UK and European sporting context. The first is agreements between sport and betting agencies. At the FIFA-INTERPOL Conference Simon Thomas of the New Zealand Racing Board, who have had a significant part to play in formulating the New Zealand policy, stated that match-fixing has no regard for nationality or territory, which is of course true. However, despite that, both national policies make it clear that they favour and, indeed, have in place formal agreements between sport and betting agencies within their territory. Any licensed operator within the individual country cannot offer bets on a sport played in that country unless there is an agreement in place with each individual sport’s governing body as to the bets that they wish to have offered on their sport. In doing so, the betting agency must provide for a financial return to the sport and, in return, the sport must share information with the betting operator. Some of the restrictions sports are allowed to put in place are on the types of spot bets, agreeing maximum wager amounts for certain types of bet and restricting betting types which may have higher risks for individual sports.  

This particular topic of a “betting right” has been a bone of contention for some time in Europe, particularly driven by the French. I see no legitimate reason why betting operators should not enter into formal agreements to pay for the opportunity to offer bets on a particular sport, given the fact, for instance, broadcasters are not allowed to simply broadcast television coverage of a sport for free. In saying that, I do acknowledge that many betting organisations make voluntary arrangements as it is in their interests for sport to be clean as well. One argument against formal arrangements in the past has been that, whilst given that it is actually the illegal markets that drive match-fixing and corruption in sport, there is very little point in restricting betting types by legal operators within an individual country. However, given the fact that there is then money put back into the sport that then should be used to combat the illegal market, this may be one justification for that system.

The second interesting aspect of the policies is the different approaches of the two countries to whether there should be a National Integrity of Sport Unit established.  As part of the national policy on match-fixing, the Australian government agreed to set up a National Integrity of Sport Unit.  So far this has had mixed success but fundamentally, as Natasha Cole of the Australian government set out at the FIFA-INTERPOL conference, it is easier to take action across all sports as resources can be pooled. Some of the things the NISU has done is to set up integrity threat assessments for sports, established and developed an integrity network, provided online resources, engaged in international outreach programmes, and is working closely with the organisers of a number of major events taking place in Australia in 2015. In contrast, in the New Zealand policy, the responsibility for the co-ordination and implementation of the policy has been given to Sport NZ, the government agency responsible for sport and recreation, and they are required to audit sports governing bodies levels of implementation by the deadlines set within the policy.

Given the recent funding furore in the UK for sport,6 it is worth highlighting that in the Australian match-fixing policy there is an explicit clause whereby Australian governments, both federal and regional, will agree to make new and ongoing funding for sports where it is developing and implementing an appropriate anti match-fixing and anti-corruption policies and practices, something which I am very much in favour of and is a clear way to incentivise action.

Following their policy in 2011, the Australian government have put in place significant criminal match-fixing provisions, far wider than those to be found in the United Kingdom. The New Zealand policy also makes provision for this and new legislation, or amendments to existing legislation, will be made in the coming months , which is to be applauded.7

Finally, a word of caution on one of the so called “protection mechanisms” in the New Zealand policy. They advocate the regular scrutiny of referees’ and judges’ on-field decisions. This would appear to me to be a dangerous territory to stray into, given the fact that referees in various sports are already under increasing levels of pressure and scrutiny by both the television coverage and by the participants, and that so called “regular scrutiny” should be restricted to only the most controversial of decisions and should not be seen as a regular occurrence.

Having read the two national policies on match-fixing I strongly believe a similar UK policy should be at least considered in the coming months with, perhaps, an evaluation of how the Australian and New Zealand policies have succeeded, or otherwise. It would focus the minds of all stakeholders, particularly sport, government, betting operators and law enforcement on this most crucial of issues and encourage dialogue between them.

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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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