MATCH FIXING IN FOOTBALL: EUROPOL INVESTIGATION REVEALS SHOCKING RESULTS

BY PROFESSOR DR IAN BLACKSHAW

Sport is all about fair play – or, at least, it should be! Competition is keen in all sports, but it should always be conducted on, to use the well-worn cliché, ‘a level playing field’. It is not a matter of winning at all costs and by all means – fair or foul. It is all about ‘playing the game’. As Albert Einstein put it succinctly: “You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” Again, as Sir Henry Newbolt put it in his famous poem ‘Vitai Lampada’: “Play up! Play up! And play the game!” Or as the Olympic Creed expresses it: “The most important thing …. is not to win but to take part…

Sport is now an industry in its own right, worth globally more than 3% of world trade, and, in the European Union, sport accounts for 3.7% of the combined GNP of the twenty-seven member States.

With so much money sloshing around in sport nowadays, and so much at stake both on and off the field of play, it is perhaps not surprising that sport has become a victim of corruption in various forms. Where there is money to be made, sadly corruption is never far behind! For examples of corruption in various sports, see the Report, entitled, ‘Why Sport is not immune to Corruption’, published by EPAS and The Council of Europe, 1 December, 2008: www.coe.int/t/dg4/epas/Source/ Resources/EPAS_INFO_Bures_en.pdf. In particular, match fixing combined with illegal betting has become the scourge of sport.

Indeed, betting and sport have been – to some extent – uneasy bedfellows probably since the dawn of time. For example, lottery games were originally played in China some three thousand years ago! See the recent Book on ‘Sports Betting: Policy and Law’, Anderson, Paul, Blackshaw, Ian, & Siekmann, Robert (Eds.), Asser International Sports Law Series, TMC Asser Press, The Hague, 2011.

Not only is it enjoyable to watch a sporting event, but added excitement and interest come from also being able to bet on the outcome of it. In fact, horseracing depends upon betting for its very survival as a sport. But, of course, it should all be fair and above board and no one should gain an unfair advantage over others betting on the same sporting events! In fact, the International Olympic Committee now requires all athletes participating in the Summer and Winter Games to sign a declaration that they will not be involved in betting.

Match fixing may be defined as the deliberate act of losing sports matches, or playing them in such a way as to achieve a pre-determined outcome or result, by illegally manipulating the outcome or result for financial gain or some other unfair sporting benefit.

Apart from fair play, sport is characterised by uncertainty of outcomes, which should be safeguarded at all costs against all comers who wish to undermine this!

No sport seems to be immune from corruption. Even the genteel game of cricket is probably the last sport where corruption might be expected to take place! Nevertheless, cricket, in recent years, has become more professional and, as such, seems to have lost touch with its so-called Corinthian values, attracting those within and outside the game that wish to make a fast buck unfairly and illegally. Particular mention may be made, for example, of the recent scandal of ‘spot fixing’ (a species of match fixing) in cricket involving the delivery of ‘no balls’ at timed intervals by certain players in the Pakistani National Cricket Team during the Fourth Test Match against England at the Lord’s Cricket Ground, the ancestral home of cricket, in the summer of 2010, in which, it was alleged and subsequently proved in criminal proceedings, that they deliberately bowled ‘no balls’ at predetermined points in an over, as pre-arranged so that bets could be taken on when ‘no balls’ would be bowled during the match. For further details of this scandal, see the article entitled, ‘Match Fixing in Cricket’, by Ian Blackshaw, ‘The Times’, 31 August, 2010.

On the other hand, football, the world’s most favourite sport and, indeed, most lucrative one, and, as such, is perhaps a more likely sport to be affected by corruption in general and match fixing combined with illegal betting in particular; and this appears to have been the case for a number of years. So, the revelations made on 4 February, 2013, at a news conference held in The Hague, by EUROPOL, the European Union’s Law Enforcement Agency, as a result of an eighteen months’ investigation into match fixing in football in Europe and beyond, whilst not surprising were still shocking, to say the least! Indeed, these revelations do not make at all good reading for ‘the beautiful game’ nor for the hundreds of millions of fans who loyally follow it and make up the so-called ‘football family’ around the world.

EUROPOL revealed that they had uncovered an organised crime syndicate, based in Asia that was coordinating the match fixing, with around 425 match officials, club officials, players and criminals under suspicion.

EUROPOL believe that this crime syndicate has been liaising with criminal networks throughout Europe and also that match fixing has taken place in 15 countries and 50 people, so far, have been arrested.

EUROPOL added that suspected matches included World Cup and European Championship qualifiers; two Champions League ties; and several top football matches in European leagues. Furthermore, criminals bet €16 million on rigged matches and made €8 million in profits. Payments of €2 million are thought, by the investigators, to have been paid to those involved, with the biggest payment to an individual amounting to €140,000.

Sadly, EUROPOL fears that this is ‘the tip of the iceberg’.

Rob Wainwright, the Director of EUROPOL said:

It is clear to us this is the biggest ever investigation into suspected match fixing in Europe.”

And added:

This has yielded major results which we think have uncovered a big problem for the integrity of football in Europe.”

A Champions League tie played in England is one of 380 matches across Europe that investigators say was fixed, but without naming names. This match is believed to be the one between Liverpool and the Hungarian Club during the 2009 group stage of the Competition. This is a blow to England, the home of football, during this year’s 150 years’ celebrations of the founding of the English Football Association, who have stated that they were not aware of this case.

It will be interesting to see how this major investigation into match fixing in football unfolds and what prosecutions and, indeed, convictions follow from it.

It will also be interesting in seeing what action FIFA and UEFA, respectively the World and European Governing Bodies of football, take as a result of it!

As regards FIFA, reference should be made to what has been hailed as an ‘historic’ agreement which was signed on 9 May, 2011 between FIFA and INTERPOL, with the goal of kicking corruption out of football. In a $20,000,000 ten-year collaboration, both entities have joined forces in order to rid ‘the beautiful game’ from match fixing. At the time, Sepp Blatter, FIFA President, commented on the scourge of match fixing affecting sport in general and football in particular in the following clear and unambiguous terms:

Match-fixing shakes the very foundations of sport, namely fair play, respect and discipline. That’s why FIFA employs a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to any infringement of these values.”

As regards UEFA, reference should be made to the declaration to clean up football made by the UEFA President Michel Platini at the XXXVI Ordinary Congress held in Istanbul on 22 March, 2012, in the following equally clear and unambiguous terms:

Violence, match-fixing, illegal betting [emphasis added], doping, pressures and threats against players, flouting contracts, trafficking of young players, money laundering: these scourges exist. They exist in society and they exist in football. It is up to us to fight them, with the help of the public authorities, to which I renew my call today. So let us protect the players, let us protect the game, let us clean up football.”

Let us hope that Blatter’s and Platini’s fine words, quoted above, will be matched by their corresponding deeds in order to safeguard the integrity of sport in general and football in particular!

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw is an International Sports Lawyer and may be contacted by e-mail at ‘ian.blackshaw@orange.fr’