Just shortly after Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey he used doping during his career as a professional cyclist, another negative event in the sports world is getting a lot of publicity today: match fixing. Maybe this is even a greater threat to the integrity of sport than doping?
Last week, Europol announced that as a result of a major investigation an extensive criminal network involved in widespread football match fixing has been uncovered. During the press conference the picture was painted of criminal syndicates (collection of gamblers) of Asian origin using ‘facilitators’ in Europe to bribe and corrupt players and other football people to fix matches for illegal betting gains. These included more than 380 professional matches in Europe (for example the Champions League tie played in England) and 300 matches played elsewhere in the world.
As already became clear in the previous Peace Palace Library blog about sports; professional football is under serious threat of sports betting and corruption scandals. No one likes to watch football players that cheat to lose, just like we do not want Lance to cheat to win!
Match Fixing: is it only the money?
Manipulation of sports events for the sake of betting has been a problem since sports first emerged. Even during the first Olympic Games athletes accepted bribes to lose a competition. This happened in spite of the oath each athlete took to protect the integrity of the events and the punishments when caught. Bribery in sports is of all times. But the past year seems to be the year where sport, and especially football, got the attention from criminal organizations busy with gambling and match fixing. That is why eighteen months ago Europol, the European Union’s police organization, started with an investigation into the fixing of football matches in Europe.
There is no single definition of match fixing, but the phenomenon could be described as follows: The act of losing, or playing to a pre-determined result in sports matches by illegally manipulating the results in your favour. Most of the time match fixing is motivated by gambling. Gamblers or gambling syndicates from the Asian market, with the help of their facilitators, bribe individual football players to influence the outcome of the match. In addition to the match fixing that is committed by players, it is not unheard of to have results manipulated by corrupt referees, coaches and other team officials.
The problem is that match fixing is not related to sports only. In the words of Europol head, Rob Wainwright, match fixing is nowadays connected to criminal activities. Criminal organizations have effectively made use of globalisation and the rise of the Internet. They are increasingly using online sports betting as a tool for making and laundering money around the globe. The online gambling offer increased so as very well said by Rosmarijn van Kleef, it is just as easy to place a bet on the first yellow card in a certain match in the German second league on a Chinese betting website as it is nowadays to buy a book on Amazon.
Another form of match fixing important to mention is spot fixing. This involves fixing small events within a match which can be gambled upon, but which are unlikely to prove decisive in determining the final result of the game.
Match Fixing: who is paying attention?
Despite the ‘zero tolerance policy’ towards match fixing of the different football associations and the jurisprudence of the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sports) on match fixing, people still agree to fix a match with money as their main motivation. To keep the sports clean it is important that different actors combat the problem. Betting and sporting associations (like UEFA and FIFA), started with screening systems to control the conduct of the players. National and European organizations picked up the issue as well. For example, Europol started an investigation and has the competence to take action against illegal activities by international criminal networks. Because match fixing has an international impact, it transcends national borders, it is of utmost importance that the different organizations, operators as well as the judicial and law enforcement agencies cooperate.
In my opinion there is a role for national governments as well. Legislators in each country have to have well-drafted, effective laws to combat manipulation of sports results.
Match Fixing: some incidents
- Oleg Oriekhov v. UEFA (CAS 2010/A2172):
This case involved Ukrainian referee Oriekhov who had a life ban from UEFA upheld by an arbitral panel of the CAS. He fixed a match in the Europa League group and he was in contact with a criminal group that offered him money for betting. The allegations against the Ukrainian referee came into light as part of widespread criminal investigations into possible fraud related to match fixing and illegal gambling in Germany started in 2005 by the Public Prosecutor of Bochum. These investigations leaded to the imprisonment of another referee, Robert Hoyzer, who also admitted to betting and fixing games in which he had officiated. These investigations were very important for the investigation of Europol.
One of the biggest match fixing scandals happened in Turkey where more than 50 officials and players have been indicted on charges ranging from match fixing to the payment of bribes in relation to 19 matches in the Turkish competition. The scandal emerged in July 2011 when the first officials and players, including important figures such as the chairman of the Turkish club Fenerbache, were banned by the Turkish Football Federation and were jailed pending the trail, which began on February 2012. Due to these incidents a match fixing law came into effect in Turkey in 2011.
On the eve of the European Football Champions last summer one of the defenders of the Italian national team was suspected of involvement in match fixing. As a result, the Italian Football Association did not allow him to play at the championship.
It is clear to me that players and other football people can become ‘victims’ of criminal organizations in order to earn more money. Until now, nothing really happened concerning match fixing in the Dutch football world. But Europol did mention last week that five individuals might be suspected of match fixing in the Netherlands as well. The Dutch government picked up this message. So far, no evidence!
Match Fixing: final words
Although match fixing might already exist since the first Olympic Games, now it is connected to criminal activities and organizations. So it is important that the different actors work together to combat the problem of match fixing. The investigation of Europol proves the value of this cooperation. Match fixing is a great threat to the integrity of sports, because the impact of match fixing affects the whole competition and doping affects just one individual.
But, of course, the increasing presence of criminals across the sporting spectrum is a big concern. So, let’s just say that last Monday was the last sad day for European Football and for sports in general!
A selection of relevant publications from the Peace Palace Library collection
- Anderson, P.M. (et al.) (eds), Sports Betting: Law and Policy, The Hague, T.M.C. Asser Press, 2012.
- Jones, K., "The Applicability of the United Nations Convention against Corruption to the Area of Sports Corruption (Match - fixing)", The International Sports Law Journal, (2012), Nos. 3-4, pp. 57-59.
- Smith, A. "All Bets are Off: Match Fixing in Sport - Some Recent Developments", Entertainment and Sports Law Journal, 9 (2011), No. 1.