Tackling match-fixing: a look at the UK’s new Anti-Corruption Plan

Published 13 February 2015 By: Kevin Carpenter

Refusing Cash

In December 2014, the UK Government released its cross-government Anti-Corruption Plan.1 The Plan brings together, for the first time, all of the UK’s activity against corruption in one place.

Further explanation as to the purpose of the Plan is provided in the foreword:

The purpose of this plan is threefold: to demonstrate the breadth of the UK’s current anti-corruption activities; to set out clearly the actions that government will take to tackle corruption in the UK; and to set out our priorities for raising international standards and leading the global fight against corruption in all its forms.

The Plan is intended to apply to many sectors in society – including sport, which has its own dedicated section – and its strategic response to corruption will follow four P’s: Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare.

This blog will critique the Plan as it relates to sport in light of both the recently proposed legislative and regulatory amendments to the current anti-corruption framework and the criminal match-fixing cases investigated in England and Wales in the past couple of years.

 

THE CURRENT FRAMEWORK

Outside of the UK, the general view I garner from work I have done on this topic around the world is that the UK is viewed as a jurisdiction that has good criminal and regulatory laws and systems in place to tackle corruption in sport using a variety of actors, including (principally):

These bodies have a number of different legislative instruments available to them including the Bribery Act 2010,2 Proceeds of Crime Act 20023 and Criminal Law Act 1977.4

In addition, specific to match-fixing, the Gambling Act 20055 introduced a new offence under section 42 of ‘cheating at gambling’, which the Government believed was drafted in such a way so as to address the variety of match-fixing offences that arise and also to provide a sufficient deterrent, carrying with it a prison term of up to 2 years:

s.42 Cheating

(1) A person commits an offence if he–

(a) cheats at gambling, or

(b) does anything for the purpose of enabling or assisting another person to cheat at gambling.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) it is immaterial whether a person who cheats–

(a) improves his chances of winning anything, or

(b) wins anything.

(3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) cheating at gambling may, in particular, consist of actual or attempted deception or interference in connection with–

(a) the process by which gambling is conducted, or

(b) a real or virtual game, race or other event or process to which gambling relates.

(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable–

(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, to a fine or to both, or

(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both.6

However, in the past 15 years, despite their often being ostensibly strong evidence in favour of a conviction, there have been only a small number of successful investigations and convictions brought for match-fixing offences. Examples in recent times of failures to successfully investigate and prosecute include the Stephen Lee case in snooker,7 and 13 individuals - including professional footballers - for match and/or spot fixing as recently as last month.8,9 Indeed, of those prosecutions that have been successful in recent times - namely the Pakistan cricketers’ spot-fixing conviction in 201110 and match-fixing by overseas criminals working with semi-professional football players in 201411 – the prosecutors relied upon using conspiracy laws from the early 1900’s.12

Furthermore, the global economic downturn had a significant impact on the UK and its public services, including law enforcement, who now more than ever before have to consider carefully the crimes to prioritise and allocate funding and resources to. Regrettably in the author’s view, match-fixing and sporting corruption is not viewed as a priority notwithstanding the clear links to organised crime groups and therefore other serious crimes such as duress and violence, money laundering and human trafficking.

POLICY DISCUSSIONS PRIOR TO THE PLAN

Due to the lack of investigations and trials resulting in successful prosecution, including those above, many stakeholders believe section 42 of the Gambling Act 2005 has not had the desired effect.

This includes the Sports Betting Group (‘SBG’), who met with DCMS in December 2013 to discuss a number of issues related to betting integrity and match-fixing. The SBG is a group comprised of key members from the leading sports governing bodies who come together on a regular basis to provide leadership and share best practice on issues within sports betting. It was established in February 2010 further to one of the numerous recommendations in the Report of the Sports Betting Integrity Panel, chaired by former Liverpool FC Chairman Rick Parry (“the Parry Report”). The letters between the SBG and DCMS subsequent to the December 2013 meeting are published on the SBG website13 and provide further information on the attitude to the current framework for anti-corruption in sport in the UK.

The SBG’s views on section 42 are clear. They state that:

The existing legislation is out of date and does not criminalise the [actual] of “fixing” (either “match fixing” or “spot fixing”)…Sports bodies feel that s.42 currently makes it extremely difficult to provide the requisite levels of information to enable the CPS to proceed with a prosecution…Indeed, we are unaware of any cases of betting-related match-fixing that have been successfully prosecuted under s.42, which clearly highlights the unsuitability of the provisions.

It is not just the scope of the provision itself, but the sanctions too that the SBG feels are insufficient, “there is a concern that the custodial sentences set out for offences under s.42 are not nearly enough.

Many of these points were repeated during the passage into law of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014,14 which was introduced to amend and enhance certain elements of the Gambling Act 200515 and the UK’s gambling regulatory regime. During the report stage of the 2014 Act in the House of Lords, an amendment was tabled by Baroness Heyhoe Flint, on behalf of Lord Moynihan, to amend section 4216 to reflect text recently adopted in Australia substantially widening the conduct captured and raising the custodial sentence to a maximum of 10 years.

Regrettably, after much debate in the House, the amendment was not taken forward. This echoed the view of DCMS in a letter to the SBG shortly before the amendment was tabled, “the cheating at gambling offence (s.42) is deliberately wide to extend its applicability. If it explicitly focused only upon match-fixing we may then lose its applicability to other circumstances.” The author’s view is the opposite of DCMS in that match-fixing, and its associated offences, is a unique crime which is best served by sport specific legislation in each jurisdiction, a view which is supported by such organisations as the International Olympic Committee and United Nations in a joint report published by them in July 2013.17

 

HOW THE PLAN ADDRESSES MATCH-FIXING

No mention of a change in the law is made in sections 4.55 to 4.58 of the Plan, which specifically address corruption in sport through match-fixing. However, some other measures in the SBG’s letters are referred to. The most significant of which is a Sports Betting Integrity National Action Plan (“the Integrity Action Plan”) [see section 4.57], the foundation for which was laid down in the Parry Report, which:

will set out the national approach and high level plans to address the risks of sports betting corruption and match fixing, that that have the potential to harm British sport and sports betting along with Britain’s reputation for being a safe place to enjoy both…[and]… focus on aligning sports, sports betting and criminal justice policies in tackling corruption in sports and sports betting and the protection of Britain’s reputation and influence.”18

The Integrity Action Plan is to be led by the new Sports Betting Integrity Forum (“the Forum”), which is wider than the SBG as it is made up of representatives from: sport governing bodies, the betting industry, sport and betting trade associations, law enforcement and the Gambling Commission as regulator.

Yet the Plan sees the Gambling Commission as central to the Integrity Action Plan’s formation: “the Gambling Commission’s development of a public and private sector intelligence capability and enhancing the effectiveness of the operational response are priorities.” Therefore although the Forum will cover all four of the “P’s” mentioned at the outset, clearly Prevent and Pursue are paramount where match-fixing is concerned.

The establishment of the Forum does not go as far as the SBG wished for; the SBG want a fully-fledged cross-sport integrity unit to be funded by the extra £300 million of additional tax revenue the Government will receive from the new 2014 Act, which to the author seems an eminently sensible and positive proposal which would be a model for other countries to follow.

There are two further issues discussed in the Plan relating specifically to sport, one of which is the reporting of corruption in sport [section 4.58]. The reporting of corruption and whistleblowing is in fact a topic that is covered in many areas of the Plan [sections 3.1, 3.4-3.6 and 6.7]. Each major sport governing body has a confidential reporting mechanism as does the Gambling Commission. However the SBG believes that:

the main benefits of a general reporting line would be to provide a reporting capability for smaller sports that do not have any such mechanism available to them at present, and to ensure that members of the public and wider sports stakeholders have a means of reporting on any sport confidentially.

The independence and security of such lines is paramount for their full utilisation and effectiveness and to encourage people to come forward with information so as to remedy the current lack of evidence that leads to the collapse of the majority of prosecutions. The Plan asks the Gambling Commission to contribute to the Home Office’s19 work on identifying a single reporting mechanism for all types of corruption across all sectors, which is a positive step.

From an international perspective, the Plan makes reference to the Government’s continuing involvement with discussions in Europe, both at the European Union and the Council of Europe (the latter with its Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions20), and with international sporting bodies such as the International Olympic Committee. However, the author believes that in the short term existing bodies need to be more proactive and use the (admittedly limited) tools we have to greater effect. For instance the UK is arguably lagging behind countries such as our Commonwealth cousins Australia and New Zealand21 and even Russia.22

Finally, there are other elements of the Plan that are worth mentioning because although they do not specifically say they relate to sport, they are nonetheless relevant to the sector and the fight against match-fixing, and are issues to be considered by the Forum when formulating the Integrity Action Plan. These include: intelligence [sections 3.0-3.2], data [section 3.3], money laundering [sections 4.59 and 6.4-6.7], asset recovery [section 6.2] and organised crime [section 6.18]. In addition, the bodies responsible for those areas should consult sport when developing their policies and procedures.

 

COMMENTARY

It is encouraging that sport is covered in the UK Government’s Plan, but it is clear from the letters between the SBG and DCMS that match-fixing and betting integrity is still a low priority for law enforcement and regulators compared to other areas of corruption such as the criminal justice system, defence, public officials and procurement. The majority of people may well agree with this position but, given the faith the voting public - and indeed all stakeholders - place in the sports sector, then the potential damage to be done through inaction regarding match-fixing is likely to be wide ranging.

On the international stage, the UK’s legal processes are (rightly or wrongly) still looked to by other countries, and match-fixing is no different. Therefore in this author’s opinion we should fully implement the areas set out in the Plan, including signing and ratifying the Council of Europe's Convention, and indeed go further by, for instance, amending our laws to be as robust as they can possibly be in this area to combat the ever increasing threat from match-fixing and its associated ills. An example of one such statutory amendment would be to ensure sporting corruption and cheating in the civil and criminal law is not just linked to gambling as match-fixing is a far wider and complex creature. To appreciate that the author recommends reading the recent CAS award in Fenerbahce v UEFA.23                    

 

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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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