Match Fixing – Chasing the Wrong People?

Match Fixing – Chasing the Wrong People?

During the last month or so, match fixing has found its place within the public domain once again, but despite the recent revelations about the possibility of a Champions League football match in the UK being involved in a match fix, there have been many major corrupted sporting matches in the last 20 years or so.

Given the increase of the commercialisation of sport, it has become apparent that there is a risk that match fixing is increasing, although obviously behind closed doors. The issue of match fixing is a very sensitive one, particularly for those who regulate sport, but it is equally clear that the authorities need to tackle the issue of match fixing head on.

Various criminal offences can arise from match fixing. Firstly, match fixing is clearly deception for financial gain, which is classified as fraud. Another legal implication that can arise is criminal conspiracy. As sport is an activity carried out worldwide, other jurisdictions have different criminal sanctions available. For example, in India there is a specific criminal offence for ‘cheating’ under the Indian Penal Code 1860.

…[I]t has become apparent that there is a risk that match fixing is increasing, although obviously behind closed doors.

One regular defence that has been put forward in many previous high profile cases is that the sportsmen who were involved in match fixing were ‘vulnerable’ in the sense that they were easily influenced to get involved in match fixing for financial reasons. As a result, elements of duress have regularly been put forward by various sportsmen. Match fixing should have no place in sport, but it must be appreciated that in certain countries where sportsmen are paid almost nothing for their talent, there will always be the risk that such individuals may seek to generate finances through another way, with match fixing being one possibility.

A prime example of claims of duress is illustrated in cricket, in the match fixing scandal involving Mazhar Majeed, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. First, it should be noted from the outset that this particular case is proof that the process of policing match fixing is difficult – not only was there no prior suspicions on behalf of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in regards to these players, but the match fixing scandal only entered the public domain through an independent investigation by the News of The World newspaper.

This case illustrated how the English courts deal with match fixing. Mr Justice Cooke emphasised how important the policy considerations are in match fixing scenarios. He particularly highlighted the consequences arising in the aftermath of a match that was fixed – namely severe damage to the integrity of the sport, damage to the fans and damage to the country the sportsmen are representing.

Mazhar Majeed was not a sportsman, but was captured by the NOTW discussing the possibility of organising the bowling of ‘no balls’ for the payment of £150,000. So what were the legal consequences of his actions? He was charged and pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy. Salman Butt (former Pakistan cricket captain) was described in the judgment as the ‘orchestrator’ of the match fixing activity, yet his only significant punishment was a ban on playing cricket for 10 years. Five of these years were suspended, primarily due to the mitigating circumstances: the fact that his family were reliant upon his income.

The most interesting defendant was Mohammad Amir, who was only 18 years old at the time he was involved in match fixing. His defence was that he only became involved in match fixing as a result of pressure, but not pressure which amounted to physical threats. Evidence was also submitted that threats were made to his family. Furthermore, it was emphasised that he came from a background ‘where life is hard’.

Nevertheless, he and all the other defendants were given custodial terms as a result of their involvement in match fixing. Mazhar Majeed was given two years and eight months imprisonment, Salman Butt 30 months, Mohammad Asif one year and Mohammad Amir was given six months in a young offenders’ institution.

The interesting points that arise from the above case is that these defendants were vulnerable in the sense that they were allegedly targeted to match fix. Some came from a tough backgrounds and there were alleged threats that were made to ensure that such defendants got involved in match fixing. There is no excuse for match fixing, however, if such mitigating circumstances are indeed true, it is clear that the authorities need to act upon the individuals and gangs who conduct themselves in such a way, to prevent such threats from taking place.

Match fixing is not only a sporting issue – the consequences that arise also make match fixing a legal issue.

One striking feature that manifested itself through the judgment is that it was acknowledged that Mazhar Majeed said to the journalists that he ‘had been fixing things with the team for about two and a half years’. If this is true, it is evident that the legal punishments that are available in relation to match fixing are not acting as a sufficient deterrent. Additionally, because of the nature of sports and due to the fact that teams participate in competitions involving many nationalities, it is apparent that match fixing is a wide scale problem that has to be dealt with on an international level.

One English match fixing case that has not attracted much media attention is the case of R v Marvyn Westfield. This case involved a domestic cricket player who played for Essex, who participated in match fixing in a cricket match with the aim of conceding a minimum number of runs in an over for the payment of £6,000. He was subsequently imprisoned for four months. This begs the question in conjunction with the Pakistani cricketers’ case above, are the legal consequences for match fixing a big enough deterrent? The amounts of money involved in match fixing in the cases discussed so far seem to emphasise that such ‘vulnerable’ or even ‘greedy’ sportsmen can easily be influenced into this unjustified business.

The sport of cricket has within itself attempted to tackle the issues of match fixing over the years through self-regulation. In 2001, the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) produced a Report on Corruption in International Cricket. However, as is evidenced from such a report, a lot of focus has been on the worldwide investigation of match fixing, rather than criminal sanctions. As is illustrated in both the Marvyn Westfield case and the case concerning the Pakistani international cricketers above, not much has been done to ensure that there is much of a deterrent for potential match fixers within the law.

Cricket is not the only sport where match fixing has been occurring. In football, it is apparent that the recent revelations will undoubtedly overwhelm the sport. A Europol investigation uncovered (unsurprisingly to some) that more than a hundred matches could have been fixed, facilitated by a betting scam. So what is the outcome going to be? Nothing as of yet. Both FIFA and UEFA have not had the opportunity to investigate the documentation, but when they do it is clear that there will be sanctions in a sporting context such as bans. But would the life ban come into play? It hasn’t in the aforementioned cricket matches. Additionally, surely public policy demands lengthier imprisonment sentences?

Match fixing is not only a sporting issue – the consequences that arise also make match fixing a legal issue. Given the amount of public attention that match fixing has had over the last decade, it has become apparent that match fixing is also becoming a political issue, with both the Australian Government and Indian Government promising to crackdown on the problem.

In order to tackle match fixing, there needs to be a full-fledged attack on the organised criminal gangs that are involved in such an activity. Surely it is not the task of the sporting governing bodies to do this; it is the task of the police. The sport’s governing bodies will punish the players and officials involved, but in combination with this, the authorities have the responsibility of uncovering the organised gangs and preventing future violations. As Chris Eaton, the former head of security of FIFA echoed, ‘if you don’t focus on betting fraud, then you won’t be able to properly address sport corruption’. This is what needs to be achieved, and what has not been done in the past.

Mani Singh Basi has recently graduated with a first class degree in Law, is currently studying for an LLM and has a place to study for the BPTC in October 2013–2014. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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