Match Fixing - The Biggest Threat to Sport in The 21st Century? - Part 1

Published 05 June 2011 | Authored by: Kevin Carpenter

ByKevin Carpenter. The issue at the heart of this article makes me sit up and take notice as a lawyer, a qualified football referee and a passionate follower of sport across the board. It has been described by many, including high profile sporting figures, sport administrators and governing bodies, as a greater threat to the integrity of sport than doping. This threat is match fixing.

 

 

Some of you may balk at my previous statement but one of the most powerful guardians of sport, the president of the International Olympic Committee (‘IOC’) Jacques Rogge, explains why, “Doping affects one individual athlete, but the impact of match fixing effects the whole competition. It is much bigger.” Illegal gambling is the principal driver of what Rogge has also called a “cancer”.

Mr Oleg Oriekhov v/ UEFA (CAS 2010/A/2172)

Match fixing really first came to my attention earlier this year when I read a news story regarding Ukrainian football referee Oleg Oriekhov who had a UEFA (the governing body of football in Europe) imposed life ban upheld by an arbitral panel (‘the Panel’) of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’). At the beginning of its judgment the Panel stressed the importance of what was being brought before them, “It is the first case of its kind in European football involving a match official as distinct from a player or coach. It therefore has an importance beyond that to the disputant parties.” The allegations against Mr Oriekhov came to light as part of widespread criminal investigations into possible fraud related to match fixing and illegal gambling in Germany by the Public Prosecutor of Bochum that was started in 2005. The major outcome of these investigations rocked the German second division and national cup competition to its foundations by, amongst others, the imprisonment and banning of referee Robert Hoyzer who admitted to fixing and betting on games on which he had officiated. 


images/stories/rokstories/matchfixing.jpgMr Oriekhov had taken charge of the UEFA Europa League group match between FC Basel and CSKA Sofia on 5 November 2009 which ended 3-1. Following the aforementioned investigations it appeared Mr Oriekhov was in contact with a criminal group involved in betting fraud and that he was offered approximately €50,000 to manipulate the match. At the end of an internal procedure at UEFA, its Appeals Body considered that Mr Oriekhov had violated the principles of conduct and his duty to disclose illicit approaches, set out in the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, in failing to immediately report to UEFA that he had received offers from certain individuals to take an active part in their match fixing scheme. A life ban on exercising any football-related activity was considered the appropriate sanction given the seriousness of the findings.


Upon appeal to CAS the Panel confirmed the UEFA decision concluding that it had been proved beyond reasonable doubt that there were repeated contacts between Mr Oriekhov and the members of a criminal group involved in match fixing and betting fraud. The Panel went on to say that in their opinion Mr Oriekhov had deliberately violated the principles of conduct provided in the Disciplinary Regulations, as he did not inform UEFA immediately of the existence of such contacts. The Panel rejected the dubious reasons of Mr Oriekhov that he had an inadequate command of English and that he was unaware who to make such a report to. His evidence at the hearing was described as “utterly lacking in credibility”. Finally they considered that given the circumstances the severe punishment was proportionate, this being despite the fact that it was not established that Mr Oriekhov had actually influenced the result of the game as a result of the contact. This case is a stark warning to anybody in sport who becomes a target, and particularly to other match officials such as myself. 

Just how widespread is match fixing? 

As you may have already surmised from the opening remarks of this article football is far from alone in being a target for match fixers. Some of the most recent incidences of suspected or actual match fixing around the world may be well known to you, through the media for example, with others being less so and yet more surprising. 

Basketball 

April 2011 – Ten people, including two former players and a former assistant coach at the University of San Diego, were indicted in connection with a scheme to fix college basketball games since 2008. The defendants were charged in the federal grand jury indictment with scheming to fix University of San Diego Toreros games by bribing players and then betting on the games in Las Vegas.1 

Cricket

August 2010 – Three Pakistan international cricketers; Salmon Butt, Mohammed Asif, and Mohammed Amir, were accused of spot fixing (a specific sub-set of match fixing) during the Fourth Test against England at Lord’s after the News of the World reported no balls were bowled at specific points during England’s innings after a payment was made to a businessman. Information on when the no balls would be bowled can be exploited by betting on specialist markets offered by some bookmakers. All three players have been found guilty by the International Cricket Council tribunal and banned for a minimum of 5 years. They have since filed appeals at CAS. In addition to this action they were committed for trial at Southwark Crown Court in the UK on conspiracy charges. The offences they have been charged with are first accepting corrupt payments in contravention of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, carrying a maximum sentence of 7 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine, and secondly cheating under the Gambling Act 2005, which carries a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.2 

Football

2009 – A German police operation unearthed a Europe-wide ring with more than 200 suspected members who fixed, or attempted to fix, around 200 matches across the continent, including three matches in the Champions League. Three of the men implicated, described by the prosecutor as “enemies of sport”, were sentenced in April 2011 by a German court to up to 3 years and 11 months in prison for trying to fix matches and bribe players. More verdicts are expected in May 2011 against the other defendants, including the alleged ringleaders. Initial estimates of the rings illegal gains had put them at about €10 million but court officials have said the figure is just the “tip of the iceberg”. UEFA has called this “the biggest betting scandal in Europe”.3

February 2011 – FIFA (the world governing body of football) has begun disciplinary proceedings against six match officials in relation to possible match fixing of the Bolivia v Latvia and Estonia v Bulgaria friendlies played in Antalya on the southwest coast of Turkey. All seven goals in the two games were penalties, with one of them taken twice after the first one was missed. €5 million was bet on the latter of the two matches, an astonishing figure for such a low-profile match, although one leading British bookmaker pulled its market on the game before kick-off after becoming aware of significant moves in the Asian market. The games were organised by a Thai-based company called Footy Sports International via a FIFA-recognised agent based in Russia. However, a concern was raised at the Estonian football federation when it became aware of one of the key figures involved in setting up the games, a Singaporean national associated with a convicted match fixer.4

March 2011 – Allegations have been made by a prominent Athens lawyer who claims that rampant corruption has affected all levels of the Greek professional game. The lawyer has handed judicial authorities taped conversations which he claims provides evidence of attempts to bribe a Greek referee and others.5 

May 2011 - The start of the Finnish football season has been delayed by a week due to an off-season dominated by the impact of suspected match fixing in the top division. The game in Finland has been reeling since the arrest of Wilson Raj Perumal, a convicted match-fixer who is at the heart of a global investigation into corruption in club and international football. One club have been thrown out of the league for their contact with Perumal, two more were devastated by the arrest of 11 senior players, and the integrity of the entire Finnish game has been called into question. Confirmation of the shadow cast over the sport came hours before kick-off as a Helsinki court handed down seven-month suspended sentences to brothers Dominic and Donewell Yobe of FC Oulu. They had pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and admitted accepting 50,000 euros (£44,000) to fix a game last season. The chain of events began in February when police in the Lapland town of Rovaniemi received a tip-off that Perumal was travelling in the country illegally on a false passport.6 Finnish Football Association managing director Kimmo J. Lipponen believes that the tentacles of the betting scandal that have shaken the foundations of Finnish football reach far beyond the country’s borders. “The teams have not made any agreements between themselves. Instead, there are large-scale global criminal operators lurking in the wings. We are talking about a very big and serious matter here.” 7

Horse Racing 

May 2011 – Following a major investigation, as a result of suspicious betting activity on more than one betting exchange and with traditional bookmakers, the British Horse Racing Authority has charged five jockeys and two owners with “serious breaches” of the rules of racing in relation to ten races between January and August 2009. The principal of which is of “deliberately not riding a horse to obtain the best possible placing for personal reward or knowing it has been laid to lose” . It has been mooted that the charges are as part of a multi-million pound betting scandal which saw each of the jockeys pocket £5000 each race from criminal gangs who bet on them not to win. The five are said to be linked to criminal gangs based outside of London and are poised to receive bans of up to 25 years if found guilty.8 

Snooker

April 2010 - World number one and three time world champion (at the time) John Higgins MBE and his manager (a board member of the world governing body of the sport the WPBSA) were accused of talking bribes to throw snooker frames. The allegations came to light after a controversial newspaper sting operation by a News of the World team posing as promoters, who met with Higgins and his manager in a hotel room in Kiev, Ukraine, under the pretence of organising a series of events linked to the World Series of Snooker. The newspaper alleged that Higgins and Mooney had agreed to lose four frames in four separate tournaments in exchange for a €300,000 total payment, and further discussed the mechanics of how to fix a frame, which tournaments and opponents to choose, and how to transfer the money to Higgins. Higgins was immediately suspended from the game and Mooney resigned from his position on the WPBSA board. Higgins issued a statement on the same day as the allegations were published denying he had ever been involved in match fixing, and explained that he decided to "play along" out of fear for his safety, suspecting the involvement of the Russian Mafia. The independent tribunal that followed concluded that Higgins had truthfully accounted for his words and actions and withdrew the more serious charges of match-fixing, but found him guilty of 'giving the impression' he would breach betting rules, and of failing to report the approach.9 Higgins received a six-month ban and was fined £75,000.10

Sumo Wrestling

2010 – A scandal over illegal gambling that saw live television coverage of the sport dropped by the national broadcaster.

February 2011 – The Japan Sumo Association cancelled the grand tournament over allegations of match fixing which implicates 13 senior wrestlers. This came to light when text messages were found on mobile phones that had been confiscated the previous year by the police during an investigation into illegal gambling on baseball games by wrestlers using gangster middlemen. The sport has it origins in religious rites, and as a result there is a strict code of conduct for the wrestlers to observe, leading the Japanese Prime Minister to call the scandal a “betrayal of the people.”11


Tennis 

August 2007 – The most high profile case of match fixing in tennis was when Nikolay Davydenko, ranked number four in the world at the time, was involved in a match in which betting exchange Betfair said bore all the hallmarks of having been fixed, with £7 million having been placed on the game, the majority of which being placed on his lower ranked opponent. Despite being cleared of all the charges, and therefore innocent in the eyes of the law, Mr Davydenko has been associated with Alimzhar Tokhtakhounov, who in 2002 was accused by the FBI of fixing figure skating events at that years Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.12 

2009 – A dossier was released identifying over 140 games since 2002 that had been potentially pre-determined as a result of match fixing.

May 2011 – The governing body of tennis (the ATP) handed down a life ban and $100,000 fine to Austrian Daniel Koellerer, who had been as high as number 55 in the world. He was found guilty of three offences in relation to match fixing, both of his own matches and trying to coerce other players to participate in match fixing between October 2009 and July 2010.13 

From that list it is evident that match fixing is a worldwide, large scale, multi-discipline problem which, as I will go on to discuss, creates significant difficulties in terms of detection and prevention. Moreover the above is just a small flavour of the breadth and depth of match fixing. Indeed it is surprising that more isn’t made of the problem and its threats to the integrity of sport in the media. You would think it would be back page, and possible front-page, news on a far more regular basis. Indeed Chris Eaton, FIFA’s security chief and former head of operations at Interpol for a decade (the largest worldwide international police organization with 188 member countries whose mission is to prevent or combat international crime), believes that match fixing in football alone yields over £55 billion annually, which is the equivalent to the money made through legal betting channels.14 

The second part of this three-part article will go further in seeking to find reasons why sports people match fix; the legal ramifications of match fixing both in the UK and internationally; and the type of people who are engaged in illegal betting and arranging sports to be fixed.

To read the full article in pdf click here.


1. ‘Ex-US college basketball players charged in game-fixing', Reuters, Marty Graham, 12 April 2011
2. BBC Sport website, 17 February 2011 to 17 March 2011
3. ‘German court hands down stiff sentences in betting trial', Reuters, Karolos Grohmann, 14 April 2011 
4. ‘ Fifa aware of match-fixing fears', Independent.co.uk, Robin Scott-Elliot, 11 March 2011
5. ‘Greece faces match-fixing claim’, Associated Press, 9 March 2011 
6. ‘Match-Fixing: Finland kicks off as players are sentenced’, Telegraph.co.uk, Paul Kelso, 7 May 2011
7. Football betting scandal may escalate’, Helsingin Sanomat 
8. ‘Five jockeys and two owners face serious BHA charges', BBC Sport, 20 May 2011
9. ‘Corruption: Agreeing to match fixing under duress: analysis', World Sports Law Report, Volume 8 (6), Kelly Hudson & Rod Findley, June 2010
10. ‘World Snooker launches anti-corruption unit’, BBC Sport, 20 September 2010 
11. ‘ Sumo tournament cancelled amid match-fixing scandal’, BBC News Asia-Pacific, 6 February 2011
12. ‘Match Fixing in Tennis’, Tennisbet.com, David White, 26 June 2009
13. ‘Former world No 55 Koellerer banned for life as tennis tackles match-fixing’, Daily Mail online, Mike Dickson, 31 May 2011
14. ‘FIFA: Match-fixing now worth £55bn’, Reuters, 18 May 2011

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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