The use of betting evidence to combat match-fixing: A review of the Joseph Lamptey decision

Published 06 February 2018 | Authored by: Adam Brickell

On 15 January 2018, FIFA published on its website a motivated arbitral award of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)1 which confirmed a lifetime ban for Ghanaian referee, Joseph Lamptey. Previously, Mr Lamptey had been banned for life by FIFA’s judicial bodies (the FIFA Disciplinary Committee and the FIFA Appeal Committee) for breaching Article 69 Paragraph 1 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code (unlawfully influencing match results)2, in connection with the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying match between South Africa and Senegal on 12 November 2016 (the Match).

Mr Lamptey had appealed the decision of the FIFA Appeal Committee to CAS and, following a hearing on 25 July 2017, the CAS Panel dismissed the appeal, notifying its arbitral award to the parties on 4 December 2017. The arbitral award raises some interesting points for those investigating and prosecuting betting-related corruption across all sports, which this article seeks to highlight and explore in further detail.

Background – on the field of play

South Africa were victorious in the Match, beating Senegal 2-1 through goals scored in the 43rd (a penalty) and 45th minutes of the Match. Senegal scored their goal in the 75th minute. Two of Mr Lamptey’s refereeing decisions came under immediate scrutiny following the Match.

First, the referee’s assessor criticised Mr Lamptey’s decision to award South Africa a penalty, stating that “the penalty was supposedly awarded because of a deliberate handball by the Senegal no. 2 which didn’t happen… This was a critical decision which had influence on results [sic] of the game”.

Then, within three days of the Match, the Senegalese Football Association wrote a letter to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee complaining about the decision to award South Africa the penalty, as well as the decision to allow South Africa to restart the Match quickly following a foul, pointing out that both decisions led directly to South African goals.

FIFA investigated and compiled evidence from 14 referee instructors and referees from the African region, all of whom concluded that Mr Lamptey’s decision to award South Africa’s penalty was clearly incorrect and a mistake. FIFA also identified six other matches refereed by Mr Lamptey in respect of which concerns over match manipulation had been raised, along with statistical evidence that Mr Lamptey awarded a significantly higher number of penalties per match than his refereeing counterparts in the region (awarding penalties is an obvious strategy used by referees seeking to influence the outcome of matches). Last, FIFA also presented evidence demonstrating “a significant worldwide consensus that the public themselves believed that [the Match] was manipulated”.3

Background – betting

In addition to complaints regarding Mr Lamptey’s decisions on the pitch, there were concerns raised about the movement of odds in the betting markets on the Match. Specifically, the markets on at least two and three goals being scored moved (or in fact did not move) in an unusual and suspicious manner. One would normally expect the odds on total goals being scored to lengthen as a match progresses to the 40th minute without any goals being scored (as happened in the Match), but in this case the odds did not so lengthen, suggesting (substantial) bets were being placed by individuals who knew that two or three goals were going to be scored. These concerns were alerted to FIFA by five monitoring companies; one on the day of the Match (Global Lottery Monitoring System) and the remainder in the days following the Match (in chronological order: Sportradar; Early Warning System; Starlizard; and Genius Sports). It should be noted that these do not appear to have been mere “alerts” of unusual betting patterns (which occur frequently and often have a legitimate explanation), but reports based on qualitative analysis of those patterns and other factors, which failed to identify legitimate reasons for the price movements.

The arbitral award

The CAS Panel dismissed the referee’s appeal and confirmed the decision of the FIFA Appeal Committee to ban him for life, and in doing so made several interesting points.

In deciding whether or not Mr Lamptey had “conspired” to influence the result of the Match, interestingly the Panel held that it was not necessary to find or infer that Mr Lamptey had plotted together with other people (dictionary definitions4 of the word “conspire” refer to joining a secret agreement, and UK common law5 and statutory6 definitions of a conspiracy require agreement between two or more people). Instead, the Panel referred to jurisprudence of the Swiss Federal Tribunal in deciding that Art. 69(1) should not only be interpreted by looking at the language used, but also by objectively construing the purpose of the rule and the entire regulatory framework, being the protection of the integrity of sporting competitions and the sporting values of football, which could be jeopardised irrespective of a plurality of people involved in a conspiracy. The Panel decided that the question it had to answer was whether the referee “actually took intentional actions, secretly planned, aimed at influencing, in a manner contrary to sporting ethics, the result of the Match in order to produce an unlawful effect7. It decided that was precisely what Mr Lamptey had done.

To reach that position, the Panel had effectively been persuaded by the weight of evidence in relation to the referee’s decisions, on the one hand, and the betting markets, on the other. The Panel held that there was an “obvious link8 between the referee’s decisions and the betting activity, being that “each of them, inexplicable if taken alone, appears to find an “explanation” only in the other9.

With regard to the betting evidence, referred to as a “strong strand of circumstantial evidence” by the FIFA Appeal Committee10, the Panel stated that it was ”convinced by the concurring opinions of a number of experts…and finds it extremely meaningful that a number of entities active on the betting market immediately (i.e. soon after the Match) and spontaneously detected the irregular betting patterns and raised concerns as to the integrity of the Match.”11

The Panel also highlighted the importance of sporting regulators showing zero tolerance of attempts to influence matches contrary to sporting ethics, and to impose sanctions which serve as an effective deterrent to others, which Mr Lamptey’s sanction surely will do.

Analysis

This was already a significant case. Before this CAS award had been published, FIFA had ordered that the Match be replayed, which was the first time a FIFA match had ever been replayed for reasons related to match-fixing. Senegal won the replay 2-0.

It is also significant for its impact on future match-fixing investigations, in football and other sports.

While this is not the first time a CAS Panel has relied upon betting evidence as a persuasive part of the evidential basis for making its decision (e.g. see Klubi Sportiv Skenderbreu v. UEFA12, an administrative case concerned with the exclusion of a club from UEFA competition for a season), in the author’s view this award is a landmark decision due to the Panel’s readiness to rely heavily on betting evidence (from several sources) alongside other evidence relating to events in the Match itself (but in the absence of evidence connecting the two), in order to attribute guilt to an individual, and confirm a lifetime ban against him.

Note: for a detailed analysis on the use of betting information as evidence please see this LawInSport article by Jamie Singer and Ross Brown: Can suspicious betting alerts prove match fixing? The case of KS Skënderbeu v UEFA.

In the author’s experience, in certain circumstances one can be reasonably confident that a sporting event has been manipulated, or that bets have been placed with the benefit of inside information, by reference to betting evidence alone. However, to be able to identify who is responsible and prove it to the required evidential standard in front of a tribunal is another matter entirely. A panel will quite rightly not be satisfied to the necessary standard of proof on the basis of a betting report alone. Often the most demanding aspect of a match-fixing investigation is obtaining evidence to connect the betting activity to what has happened on the pitch, usually through communications and betting (account) evidence. This can be particularly problematic for an investigator when the individuals driving the corruption and/or operating the betting accounts will often fall outside the jurisdiction of the sports body carrying out the investigation. That means any such individuals are usually under no obligation to cooperate with that sporting regulator’s investigation. This can cause delays and could ultimately frustrate an investigation entirely.

It does not appear that in this case any attempt was made to connect Mr Lamptey to the bets or those persons placing/funding them, through communications or otherwise. If such an attempt was made, it did not produce any evidence worthy of a reference in the Panel’s decision. In essence, the Panel felt able to connect the betting activity to the referee’s decisions on the basis that the only thing which could explain his poor decisions was the unusual betting, and vice-versa. It is of course not quite that simple, with the Panel referring to a considerable body of evidence relevant to each of those matters.

In the author’s view, the key point in this award is that it gives encouragement to investigators and prosecutors, to the extent that establishing connections between unusual betting and events on the pitch (for example, through evidence of communications between conspirators) will not always be necessary, especially if there is strong circumstantial evidence obtained in relation to each of those events. While this case should absolutely not be taken to encourage the bringing of flimsy cases with evidential holes, nor does it suggest that betting evidence alone will be sufficient to prove match-fixing, it is refreshing in the sense that it will embolden prosecutors to pursue cases even if certain pieces of evidence prove elusive (due to limits to the jurisdiction and investigative powers of the regulator). The onus remains on sporting regulators to do everything within their power to establish a full evidential picture, but this case recognises that while there may be gaps in the evidential chain, steps can still be taken to protect a sport’s integrity.

The lesson for sports regulators is that they should be prepared to do the work, like FIFA did in this case, to gather as much information as possible from a variety of sources, in order to build their case. This requires robust systems and processes for managing information about a sport generally on a day-to-day basis, and an open mind as to what can be obtained. Information such as statistical performance data, open source material, expert assessments of referees’ or players’ performances and decisions can all play a part. Betting evidence, corroborated where possible, will also be given considerable weight.

Bet monitoring is a very important part of an integrity function, and while the comments in this case about the persuasiveness of reports from various different sources should not be taken to mean that sports bodies need contracts with multiple bet monitoring companies, it does demonstrate the importance of monitoring plus corroboration (to support) and challenge (to test) such evidence (the apparently ground-breaking model which Football Dataco has entered into with Perform and Genius Sports13 is notable in this regard). Sports bodies should also seek to establish direct information sharing relationships with betting operators to attempt to secure account level information (in addition to higher level market information), which will increase their chances of identifying corruptors.

Conclusion

There is no doubt this case is a positive step in the fight against match-fixing. If the approach of this Panel is followed by other tribunals, then match-fixing investigations could be quicker, easier, and more likely to lead to successful prosecutions of sporting participants who have broken a sport’s rules. The Panel must be right when it says that there should be strong sanctions to serve as an effective deterrent to other players and referees who might submit to temptation and engage in corrupt activities. However, one hopes that those agencies with greater jurisdiction and investigative powers than FIFA are continuing to look at this case and the other people who were likely involved in it. Otherwise, one is left with the rather uncomfortable feeling that a referee (albeit one who has broken the rules and must be sanctioned for that) has taken the fall for the real criminals, who are free to corrupt other vulnerable individuals elsewhere in football or other sports.

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About the Author

Adam Brickell

Adam Brickell

Adam is a Partner in the sports and gambling consultancy, Regulus Partners, advising a range of clients in those industries on integrity, governance, regulation and data exploitation. Adam began his career as a solicitor in DLA Piper’s sports and media law practice, before moving to an in-house role at the British Horseracing Authority ("BHA") in 2009. During his eight-year career at the BHA, Adam spent four years on the BHA executive management team in the role of Director of Integrity, Legal, and Risk.

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