What can sport do to stop spot-fixing?

Published 11 November 2013 | Authored by: Kevin Carpenter

Despite match-fixing finally approaching the summit of the sporting agenda I believe there is still some misunderstanding between sports governing bodies (‘SGBs’) and law enforcement about the responsibilities for preventing and combating the threat.  This is no better exemplified than through the issue of spot-fixing.

Spot-fixing is the manipulation of a match or sporting event so that certain actions or events take place, it is also sometimes called micro-manipulation. Two real life examples being a player bowling a no-ball in cricket or a snooker player losing the first frame but going on to win the match as a whole. My feeling that stakeholders in the sport are uncertain how to approach spot-fixing as opposed to match-fixing was reinforced following two recent overseas trips, first working with INTERPOL/FIFA at a match-fixing workshop hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa and secondly attending and presenting at Play the Game 2013 conference in Aarhus, Denmark.

A fundamental difference between match-fixing and the subset spot-fixing is that organised crime and the criminals involved are principally focussed on fixing matches. This is where the liquidity and big money is in the betting markets to be manipulated. In contrast, the markets used for spot-fixing are considered by many to be 'novelty bets', they can attract the attention of betting manipulators but will not provide them with the return required to make the risk of criminal repercussions worthwhile. This important distinction needs to be understood clearly by SGBs and law enforcement because the focus for law enforcement should be on match-fixing by arresting the criminals involved and most importantly seizing the criminal proceeds of their activities. SGBs on the other hand need to be fully aware of the threat to their sport from spot-fixing, in addition to match-fixing, because the prevention of spot-fixing is crucial to ensure the perception of integrity to all stakeholders in a sport.

If you are of any doubt as to the damage a spot-fixing scandal can do then just look at the infamous Pakistan cricket scandal. At the recent British Association of Sport and Law ('BASL') Conference the head of the International Cricket Council's ('ICC') Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, stressed the overriding concern regarding perception which meant the governing body had to take swift action. He also highlighted the concern of the sport's broadcasters who said that if swift action were not taken then they were prepared to withdraw from the sport. It is questionable whether the significant expense in pursuing a criminal prosecution against the perpetrators, principally the players, and the cost of holding them in prison having been found guilty, was an effective use of public money given they had already been handed long bans by the ICC which are a far better deterrent for participants in the sport. No criminal action was taken against the bookmakers outside the UK further up the chain of corruption who were undoubtedly directing the spot-fixing.

Therefore, it cannot be stated strongly enough that it is not an effective use of police time to be investigating instances of spot-fixing where small amounts are involved, rather police forces internationally should be working with organisations such as INTERPOL to share information and catch the major criminals and most importantly cut of their flows of funds be that through civil recovery, where that is available, and if not through recouping criminal funds following a criminal conviction. So to ensure spot-fixing is adequately dealt with, SGBs need to undertake to enter into agreements with betting operators and companies who monitor betting markets. As part of this relationship they should be referring suspicious behaviour on the field of play, for example in football this may be a professional kicking a ball straight off the field for a throw-in immediately from the kick off, to betting and monitoring companies who can then look at bets placed on that particular market and reconcile the suspect event and the evidence.

A further reason why law enforcement should not be too heavily involved with issues of spot-fixing, particularly in relation to its prevention and detection, and the reason so many cases brought by the police in this field collapse, is that there is often a paucity of evidence that can be obtained or is available to overcome the criminal burden of proof, which is a very high hurdle. This problem is even more acute where spot-fixing is concerned.

Now that there is an increased global awareness of the dangers of match-fixing, and SGBs are finally taking concerted action in this area, it is now time to nuancesome of the policies being developed and implemented with the distinction between match-fixing and spot-fixing clearly being one area where this is possible and necessary. SGBs and law enforcement need to acknowledge and work in the areas in which they have the most competence and resources. It is my view that it is clearly better for law enforcement to target the major international match-fixers and cross-border organised criminal networks and for SGBs to continue to work on education and prevention but take the mantle of investigating and prosecuting, through sporting means, participants in their sport who may give rise to suspicious of spot-fixing. After all, as Professor Richard H. McLaren, a prominent CAS Arbitrator, said at Play the Game, "spot-fixing is the beginning of a 'slippery slope'" to wider match manipulation and corruption. As I always say, perceived corruption breeds actual corruption which means maintaining the perception of sporting integrity to all stakeholders is just as important as the sport actually being clean from corruption.

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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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