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Integrity of Sport and Match Fixing in European Union

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The Commission fully acknowledges the seriousness of the problems related to match fixing that are affecting the ethics and integrity of sport. In the Communication on Developing the European Dimension in Sport (Communication from the Commission to the EP, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions “Developing the European Dimension in Sport, 18/1/2011 COM(2011) 12 final), the Commission addressed the issue of sports integrity and proposed a number of initiatives to be taken over the next few years. Furthermore, the Commission adopted in June 2011 a package of measures which cover the fight against corruption at EU level and which includes corruption in sport, match fixing in particular (Package of anti-corruption measures adopted by the Commission on 6 June 2011).

Within the Green paper consultation on online gambling in the Internal Market (Commission’s Green paper on online gambling in the Internal Market COM (2011) 128 final), the Commission sought i) to understand the scale of the problem, ii) to map the measures currently in place in order to combat match fixing as well as the efficiency of these measures.

The European Parliament has also given consideration to the issue of match-fixing, in its 2009 Resolution on the integrity of online gambling (the ‘Schaldemose Report’) (2008/2215(INI)), the 2011 Resolution on online gambling in the Internal Market (the ‘Creutzmann Report’) (2011/2084(INI)), and the 2012 Resolution on the European Dimension in Sport (the ‘Fisas Report’) (Motion for a European Parliament resolution on the European dimension in sport (2011/2087(INI))). The Council first dealt with the fight against match-fixing in the EU Work Plan for Sport and in November 2011 adopted conclusions on combating match-fixing. In these conclusions, Member States, the Commission and relevant stakeholders are invited to forge close cooperation in order to better protect the integrity of sport. The two EU agencies in charge of cross-border judicial and police cooperation, EUROPOL and EUROJUST, are also actively involved in the fight against match-fixing through the establishment of Joint Investigation Teams (JIT) involving several countries.

Besides the EU, on 28 September 2011, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted the Recommendation on the promotion of integrity of sport against manipulation of results, notably match-fixing. (Recommendation CM/Rec(2011)10 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on promotion of the integrity of sport against manipulation of results, notably match-fixing (Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 28 September 2011)) On 15 March 2012, the Council of Europe’s Conference of Ministers Responsible for Sport meeting in Belgrade invited the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS) to launch the negotiations, in coordination with the EU, on a possible international legal instrument (Convention) against the manipulation of sports results, notably match fixing. Negotiations on the Convention are expected to be launched in autumn 2012, following the meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 13 June 2012.

The International Olympic Committee launched a working group in March 2011, composed of high-level representatives of the sport movement, public authorities, international organisations including the European Commission, and betting operators. The objective of the working group is to propose ways to fight against irregular and illegal sports betting. A roadmap for follow-up action was adopted by the working group on 2 February 2012 (IOC recommendation against match fixing of 2 February 2012).

There are currently various interpretations of the concept of match-fixing, also described as sporting fraud or sport-fixing. The Commission services believe that an agreed definition would facilitate a common understanding of the problem and would ensure that an appropriate legal arsenal is in place to fight against this phenomenon. The definition provided in the Council of Europe Recommendation on the promotion of integrity of sport against manipulation of results, notably match fixing, provides a good working basis for this purpose: “The manipulation of sports results covers the arrangement on an irregular alteration of the course or the result of a sporting competition or any of its particular events (e.g. matches, races…) in order to obtain financial advantage, for oneself or for other, and remove all or part of the uncertainty normally associated with the results of a competition”.

Despite the lack of a common definition, there is a broad agreement amongst all stakeholders that match fixing poses a direct threat to the integrity of sport competitions. Past experience shows that match fixing can occur both with and without the involvement of betting operators.

This means that not all match fixing scandals are necessarily betting-related (Research by the Centre for the International business of Sport at the University of Coventry shows that 57.89% of proven match fixing cases between 200-2010, which were subject to analysis, were betting related and 42.11% of them non-betting related.). When it comes to betting-related match fixing, Member States, sport organisations and regulated gambling operators seek to fight this specific type of gambling fraud in order to, in particular:

  1. protect financial interests of both players (consumers) and regulated operators,
    2. prevent money laundering through betting on events with fixed outcome,
    3. protect fairness in sport which is crucial for sport organisations as well as for individual sportspeople.

Match fixing occurs in both the offline and the online gambling markets, and both regulations and self-regulations seek to address this threat in similar ways, at the same time taking account of technical specificities of the particular platform used. In this context, it is suggested that in regulated markets, due to customer identity verification procedures and profiling of customer’s behaviour, online bets are less anonymous than offline bets and, therefore, match fixing threats are more detectable in the online segment. When it comes to sport disciplines exposed to match fixing, whilst it is easier to influence the outcome of events of individual sports, football seems the most threatened discipline because of its popularity and the liquidity volume involved.

As regards the scale of the problem, the Commission services note a lack of reliable data since in the majority of cases online betting related match fixing seem to occur, through gambling operators established in unregulated markets outside the EU. Statistics confirm that regulated operators detected very few match scandals over the past few years (According to its Integrity Report 2010, the European Sports Security Association (ESSA) identified 58 incidences across its members in 2010 that were deemed to be irregular. Only 4 of these 58 alerts were suspicious and their case files were sent to the relevant sports governing bodies. In 2011, there were 69 alerts leading to 8 referrals of suspicious betting patterns to the relevant sports governing and gambling regulatory authorities. The European Lottery Monitoring System (ELMS), founded in 1999, investigated 5000 matches between January and April 2011 and raised 93 alerts. According to research by the Centre for the International business of Sport at the University of Coventry cases out of 2089 proven cases of corruption over the period 200- 2010, which were subject to analysis, only 57 concerned match fixing (both betting and not betting related).). It certainly has to do with the fact that in regulated gambling markets monitoring mechanisms designed to detect suspicious betting patterns have been developed by regulators, gambling operators or sport federations and, therefore, fraud attempts are likely to be efficiently tackled. On the contrary, cases originating outside regulated markets cannot be systematically monitored and, therefore, there is a real lack of information concerning the scale of match fixing at global level. By way of example, Interpol has conducted four soccer gambling operations (SOGA) over the past years targeting illegal football gambling across South-East Asia. These operations led to more than 7,000 arrests, closure of illegal gambling dens (These dens handled more than $2 billion worth of bets.) and seizure of close to $27 million in cash.

Existing anti-match fixing measures

As far as the current measures to combat match fixing are concerned, a number of various regulatory (gambling licensing conditions, statutes of sport federations) and self-regulatory mechanisms (codes of conduct), exist, introduced either individually or jointly by Member States, sport federations, associations of athletes and gambling operators. Educational campaigns for athletes, coaches and referees are in place but it is often questioned whether these adequately reach out to the targeted audience (According to research conducted by Sport Athletes, in the UK 40% of football players and 60% of rugby players are not aware of rules/limitations on self-betting enshrined in statutes or contracts with sport federations.). Other preventive measures used are conflict of interest rules such as betting bans for sports people and their family relatives, betting bans for employees of operators, exclusion of certain events from betting such as youth competitions, limitation or prohibition of certain types of bets, authorisation of bets by sport bodies, bet monitoring systems, alert tools (whistle blowing, hotlines), mutual reporting obligations applied between operators, sport bodies and gambling regulators (e.g. through memoranda of understanding).

In the context of anti-match fixing measures, it is argued by some that certain types of bets increase the risk of an event being fixed and should be, therefore, prohibited. There are also calls for a system whereby sport federations remain in control of the way bets are offered on competitions organised by them. The Commission services believe that as regards limitation and regulation on types of bets and/or types of events on which bets can be placed, further debate is necessary. Whilst at this stage it may be difficult to determine by law for all sports which types of bets are or are not allowed, the risk to the integrity of sport should be a factor in determining which bets may be offered. Gambling regulators could play a role in this context, certainly facing the challenge to strike the right balance between commercial interests of gambling operators and interests of sport bodies so that customers are not directed to unregulated markets with more attractive gambling offers. Therefore, increased structured dialogue between gambling regulators, sport bodies and gambling operators is certainly necessary. Cross border dialogue and exchange of best practice between national gambling regulators is equally important in this respect given the differing regulatory approaches in Member States. In this context, the Commission will, by using part of the funds available under the 2012 Preparatory Action for European Partnerships in Sport, launch test projects aimed at promoting international cooperation in the fight against match fixing notably in the area of prevention through education and awareness-raising mechanisms (In March 2012 the Commission adopted the 2012 Annual Work Programme on “grants and contracts for the Preparatory Action – European Partnership on Sports and for the Pilot Project – Knowledge Partnerships”. On this basis, the Commission launched a call for proposals to support transnational projects presented by public bodies or civil society organisations in the field of sport.).

Various regulatory and self-regulatory mechanisms also exist in relation to sponsorship and to ownership of sport events/clubs by gambling operators, bearing a different degree of restriction across Member States and sport disciplines. In general, the responses to the Green Paper consultation indicate that sponsorship by betting companies of sport clubs or sporting competitions does not create a higher risk of fixed outcome of an event, especially in well regulated gambling markets. Operators seek sponsorship of sport events and clubs within regulated markets because this gives credibility and fair play labels and in this way distinguish them from the unregulated operators.

As for bet monitoring systems, a number of them are currently used by stakeholders such as sports governing bodies, betting operators and gambling regulators. A number of memoranda of understanding on sharing of intelligence and data have been signed between some regulated operators and large sport federations as well as between regulated operators and gambling regulators. It is, nonetheless, evident that effectiveness of these systems is limited to bets placed through operators providing services in regulated markets. Data protection issues are often mentioned as a barrier for sharing information, in particular with regard to match fixing alerts involving player’s sensitive data. Furthermore, it seems that the various bet monitoring systems currently in place should be better coordinated and complement each other, in order to increase the overall efficiency of detection of match fixing threats. To that end, a higher level of cooperation seems necessary both at national and international level.

With regard to financing of sports integrity mechanisms/measures including bet monitoring systems, there are clearly different approaches across Member States. For example, the Italian gambling regulator runs its own real time monitoring system, financed from gambling licensing fees, France by law requires the operators to directly contribute to sport federations in charge of the event on which bets are placed, whilst in the UK sports integrity measures are financed by the sport sector itself. Also gambling operators (both lotteries and commercial) have established their own detection systems in order to protect themselves from the negative effects of match fixing. None of the financing models currently applied has been found to be more or less efficient than the others. Nonetheless and as stated by the Commission in its Communication entitled “Developing the European Dimension in Sport” (Section 3.2, COM(2011) 12 final), sport stakeholders perceive challenges with regard to continued income streams from gambling activities into sport. Regulatory approaches vary among Member States in areas relating to intellectual property rights and gambling activities, in particular regarding the extent of property rights for the organisers of sport competitions in relation to the events they organise, as well as the issue of image rights in sport.

The Court of Justice has in a recent judgment (Judgment of 4 October 2011 in joined cases C-403/08 and C-429/08 Football Association Premier League and Others, par. 98-100.) held that “sporting events cannot be regarded as intellectual creations classifiable as works within the meaning of the Copyright Directive. That applies in particular to football matches, which are subject to rules of the game, leaving no room for creative freedom for the purposes of copyright. Accordingly, those events cannot be protected under copyright. It is, moreover, undisputed that European Union law does not protect them on any other basis in the field of intellectual property. Nonetheless, the Court also stated that “sporting events, as such, have a unique and, to that extent, original character which can transform them into subject-matter that is worthy of protection comparable to the protection of works, and that protection can be granted, where appropriate, by the various domestic legal orders.”. In order to further explore the nature and scope of property rights owned by organisers of sporting competitions, the Commission has launched an external study (Open Call for tender EAC/18/2012, Study on sports organisers’ rights in the EU Contracting Authority: European Commission Directorate-General for Education and Culture). The aim of the study is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the issues related to sports organisers’ rights from an EU perspective and to formulate suggestions as to whether EU action is needed to address any identified problem in this respect.

Criminalisation of match fixing

As a follow up to the Communication on Developing the European Dimension in Sport, the Commission carried out a study on how sporting fraud offences, and notably match fixing, are being covered by the national laws of the Member States. The aim of the study was to enable the Commission to assess whether EU action in this field is necessary. The study results suggest that difficulties in prosecuting match fixing are frequently more of an operational than legal nature (difficulties in gathering evidence, prioritisation of cases and cooperation amongst law enforcement authorities). The study also showed that the specific incrimination of sport offences did not necessarily lead to a better track record in courts or to fewer suspicious cases. In particular due to the lack of broader EU acquis in the area of sport offences, combating match fixing at EU level by establishing a common definition of sport fraud is not a feasible policy option at this stage. The Study also served as a basis for a debate in the Commission and Member States’ Expert Group ‘Good Governance’, which concluded that despite the existence of differences in the Member States’ legal frameworks applicable to match-fixing, harmonisation through an EU-defined crime of sporting fraud does not seem necessary. Having said this, Member States have been invited to consider the adoption of a possible international legal instrument against match-fixing aimed at ensuring that national legal and administrative systems are provided with the necessary legal tools, expertise and resources to combat this phenomenon.

When it comes to harmonisation of sanctions imposed as a result of match fixing, it should be stressed that without a harmonisation instrument in place, criminal and administrative sanctions cannot be laid down at EU level. The only EU instrument in place in this field is Framework Decision 2003/568/JHA (Council Framework Decision 2003/568/JHA of 22 July 2003 on combating corruption in the private sector) on private corruption which, however, leaves Member States free to set levels of sanctions and penalties.

International cooperation on match fixing

Law enforcement cooperation of police and judicial authorities across borders is essential in view of the transnational nature of match fixing, in particular when it is betting-related. EU  ide coordination is currently implemented through Europol and Eurojust. Cooperation at international level between Europol and Interpol is also in place whilst no international equivalent of Eurojust exists. The Commission services suggest that the next orientation document to be adopted by the Council with a view to providing guidance on the action of Europol includes a reference to the fight against match-fixing as a type of serious cross-border crime.

Furthermore, the Commission services cooperate with and participate in meetings/working groups of the IOC and the Council of Europe. A series of measures aiming at addressing this phenomenon in a global manner have been recently recommended by these two organisations. Concerning cross-border cooperation at EU level, the Commission services will, through the expert group on gambling, seek Member States views on whether and how to enhance cooperation amongst public authorities, including enforcement bodies, in the fight against betting related match fixing. It seems that the creation of national points of intelligence, where all relevant actors involved in fighting match fixing at national level would meet, exchange information and coordinate actions, would be the first necessary step for efficient cooperation at EU and global level. In this context, the possibility of including the protection of integrity of sport and the fight against match-fixing as topics for political discussion with third countries and the competent international organisations in the field of sport will equally be explored by the Commission services. To that end, identification of countries that raise specific issues in terms of betting related match-fixing of sport events taking place within the EU would be necessary.

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