Can suspicious betting alerts prove match fixing? The case of KS Skënderbeu v UEFA

Published 16 February 2017 | Authored by: Jamie Singer, Ross Brown

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) recently published its Decision on KS Skënderbeu’s appeal against UEFA’s ban on their participation in the UEFA Champions League[1].  The Decision was noteworthy because the use of betting data and analysis of that data was submitted as evidence of match-fixing before CAS.  

Emilio Garcia (head of disciplinary and integrity at UEFA) has written a review of the case, available here for the T.M.C. Asser Instituut.[2]  This article builds on Mr Garcia’s piece by exploring the impact of the Decision and asking specifically whether or not betting alerts alone can meet the standard of proof required to persuade a disciplinary panel that a party has breached integrity rules (in this case UEFA's rules prohibiting match-fixing)?

 

Review of facts and decision

In June 2016, the Albanian club was declared ineligible to participate in the UEFA Champions League following an investigation and report from the UEFA Ethics and Disciplinary Inspectors.[3]  UEFA’s Betting Fraud Detection System[4] (BFDS) had identified over 50 matches involving the Club which were considered suspicious for betting irregularities and, therefore, potential match fixing.  To put this in context, 99% of UEFA regulated football clubs are never mentioned in a BFDS reports, yet the Club was the subject of over 50 reports over a 5-year period; more than any other club in Europe[5]

The information included in the BFDS report, which was also supported by the Inspectors’ report, was enough for UEFA to conclude[6] that the Club had been involved in match fixing and should be excluded from UEFA’s competitions.  The Club appealed UEFA’s Disciplinary Committee decision to CAS and in its recent judgment CAS upheld the ban.

A number of commercial companies who specialise in utilising electronic data relating to sport have suggested this is a watershed moment setting a precedent for the importance of betting data in securing match fixing convictions. However, a thorough analysis of the Decision lends itself to a more measured approach to the value of betting data in these situations. 

The facts in the KS Skënderbeu case were extreme.  The volume of alerts relating to matches the Club played in was unprecedented. 

However, whilst the CAS Panel found this evidence persuasive, they categorically rejected the possibility that suspicious betting patterns alone could secure a conviction.  CAS stated that “the reporting of an “escalated” match deriving from the BFDS is by no means conclusive evidence that such match was indeed fixed”[7].  In fact, they stated that “in order to come to the conclusion that a match is fixed the Panel finds that the analytical information needs to be supported by other, different and external elements pointing in the same direction”[8]

Despite the unprecedented nature of the analytical information contained within the BFDS reports, the CAS Panel emphasised the need for additional non-analytical information to reach the threshold of “comfortable satisfaction” required to demonstrate that there had been an infringement of the rules.  In this case, there was plenty of such evidence, supported by evidence in the BFDS report [9], including: 

  1. the reputation and history of the senior executives at the Club;
  2. the video evidence showing suspiciously poor play from the Club’s defenders at key moments in matches;
  3. unprompted statements from opposition players about suspicious behaviour;
  4. emergence of a pattern whereby the Club would concede late goals when a tie was no longer competitive; and
  5. the removal of the Club from live betting markets.

It was only when this non-analytical evidence was presented alongside with the analytical evidence (the suspicious betting patterns alerts) within the BFDS report that the CAS Panel felt comfortable upholding the ban on the Club from UEFA competitions in accordance of UEFA regulations.

 

Comment

 

The Decision came only a few weeks before the Tennis Integrity Unit published its annual review.[10] Betting alerts have of course been a hot topic in tennis ever since the “exposés” published by the BBC and Buzzfeed[11] during the Australian Open last year. Betting alerts were presented as evidence of match fixing by those media organisations and were the basis of allegations that hundreds of matches had been fixed. 

This environment led to calls from Buzzfeed for details of alerts to be published and even to the situation where alerts relating to a Spanish mixed doubles pair were leaked to the media.[12] The pair were “outed” as “match fixers” and will forever be linked to match fixing.  However, an investigation[13] by the TIU revealed that the irregular betting patterns on that match had nothing to do with the players themselves who were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.  As the TIU comment in their annual review, betting data alone is not sufficient to bring a charge of match fixing stating that it is a “valuable resource” that is an “indicator that something inappropriate may have happened”.

This position has been reinforced by the KS Skënderbeu case.  However, notwithstanding that the case relates to football, the authors hope that the Decision will help correct what seems to be a current perception in the mainstream media that suspicious or irregular betting patterns are definitive evidence of wrongdoing by a club or athlete.  They are not.  They are simply a useful tool and trigger for investigations. 

Those investigations may well uncover corroboratory evidence of match fixing, as in the case of KS Skënderbeu, but they may also uncover innocent explanations for those patterns of betting that triggered the alert.  The explanation could be as simple as a mistake in setting the odds or issues with a player’s fitness, form or personal circumstances.  Alternatively the investigation may identify individuals other than the players who are at fault. 

Integrity is critical for sport and match fixing strikes at the very heart of it.   It deprives sport of its most compelling quality – its unpredictability – leaving all those involved in sport defrauded.  However, whilst recognising the threat of match fixing and the importance of protecting against that threat, we must also recognise the scale of that threat and the success that sports are having in this area.  

The fact that UEFA’s BFDS was sophisticated enough to generate over 50 reports related to one corrupt club but has generated no reports in relation to 99% of its clubs is encouraging. It also suggests that match fixing is not endemic throughout football clubs.

In tennis, the TIU calculated that there were around 114,000 professional tennis matches in 2016. They have arrangements in place to receive betting alerts from betting companies based all around the world. However, of those 114,000 matches less than 0.25% generated alerts last year. 

The authorities can never be complacent in the fight against those wishing to fix matches, but perhaps we should recognise what some sports are achieving.

 

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About the Author

Jamie Singer profile image

Jamie Singer

Jamie is a founding partner of onside law. He qualified into the Commercial department at Clifford Chance after a secondment to their Dubai office and in 2000 joined the dedicated sports group at Nicholson Graham & Jones. Latterly he spent five years as in-house counsel at IMG where he was principal legal advisor to IMG's tennis, sponsorship consultancy, fashion and models divisions throughout Europe.

Ross Brown

Ross Brown

Ross is a senior associate in the dispute resolution team specialising in contentious and regulatory matters within the sports industry. He acts for clients across a broad range of commercial and regulatory disputes, both domestically and internationally, including governing bodies, clubs/teams and sports professionals.

Ross is also a member of the British Association of Sports and Law and is currently studying on the Sports Law and Practice course run by BASL in conjunction with De Montfort University.

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