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The recent allegations and arrests made in relation to match fixing in football have served as an important wake up call for those involved in sport in the UK, and in English football in particular

Many of us have been concerned for some time about the increasingly sophisticated methods by which often foreign based, unlawful and unregulated bookmakers have been involved in match fixing in UK sport.

In the ECB v Kaneria case in which Ian Mill QC and myself prosecuted Pakistan International Danish Kaneria for involvement in spot fixing leading to the player receiving a lifetime ban from cricket, the spot fixing involved related to illegal gamblers based in India corrupting a relatively young, inexperienced and low-paid county cricket player to underperform in one over during a county game.

In the recent Stephen Lee case, Adam Lewis QC chaired a panel that imposed a 12-year ban on the player for involvement in match fixing in snooker (discussed in the article by Tom Hickman below). British Horseracing has long been the target for corrupt betting scandals. In 2011, the British Horseracing Authority imposed bans totalling 66 years against four jockeys, two owners and their associates for involvement in the largest race-fixing ring ever exposed in British racing history.

Match fixing in football had previously been thought of as a Chinese, Italian or Turkish disease (all three countries have recently been the subject of major widespread football corruption scandals), but it’s not new to English football. From the allegations of corruption against former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar and former Aston Villa striker John Fashanu in 1994, to the arrests of businessmen for taking part in an Asian betting scam that fixed English Premiership football matches by sabotaging the floodlights in 1999, and former England player and current Sky pundit Matt Le Tissier’s 2009 claim that he was involved in trying (but ironically failing) to deliberately kick the ball out of play in Southampton’s game against Wimbledon in 1995 for £10,000 illegal gambling winnings, there has long been evidence of match fixing in English football.

But the recent scandal has begun to highlight the extent of suspected corruption, and to shine a light on some of the alleged activity. Former Premier League footballer Sam Sodje is alleged to have claimed he deliberately got himself sent off during a match between Portsmouth and Oldham Athletic this year after he punched a rival player in the groin twice. Sodje was sent off and is alleged to have received £70,000. Former Premiership and now Championship player DJ Campbell has also been arrested in connection with the latest football match fixing allegations.

This week’s arrests and allegations follow reports last week about match fixing allegations in the Football Conference involving businessmen from Singapore. At the time, reports focussed on the fact that the corruption allegations related to “non-league” sides, although this week’s arrests demonstrate that the investigations extend to the top tiers of English football.

The increasing sophistication of illegal gamblers, utilising the growth and internationalisation in sports broadcasting, live-time internet and betting, means that match fixing is now a serious international problem in sport from which no country can easily be immune.

Bets are placed not only on the outcome of a match (typical match fixing) but on seemingly trivial matters such as to the time in which the first yellow card or throw on occurs in football, or the number of no balls in a particular over of a county cricket game. The bets may be placed anywhere in the world, often with illegal bookmakers operating in countries where betting is unlawful. A network of middle men operate to identify and corrupt players, from those earning little or no money in lower league clubs to those at or just over the pinnacle of their profession.

It is a form of corruption that can be difficult to identify. Regular monitoring of unusual betting patterns is now essential for all sports regulators. So is the encouragement and protection of players prepared to speak out and give evidence of unlawful approaches. In previous cases it is often this type of evidence coupled with telephone records showing contact and timing that has been essential to prove match fixing, but as those involved in the lucrative business of unlawful gambling become more sophisticated, so their methods of avoiding detection will improve.

Sports regulators need to take a tough line against match fixing. Lifetime or at least very long bans from the involvement in the sport are becoming the norm, not least because of their important deterrent value. Many have argued that it may become necessary to suspend sports clubs who have employed players involved in match fixing from competitions, even where the club has no knowledge or involvement in the illegality, as a way to force clubs to take more pro-active measures to prevent and detect match fixing (similar to the way that football clubs have become liable for the acts of violent or racist fans).

Because of the difficulty of identifying and proving match fixing, there often being no direct evidence but only inferences that can be drawn, some have argued that a relatively low standard of proof should be applied. In the same way that the WADA anti-doping code effectively reverses the burden of proof on to an athlete (to prove innocent or non-negligent ingestion of a banned substance once the substance has been detected) because of the difficulty in detecting and proving doping in sports, some argue that the standard of proof must not be too high to prove match fixing. This is controversial. Match-fixing is a criminal activity, and is likely to lead to the loss of a sportsman’s livelihood. Some argue that as a result the criminal standard of proof should be met before someone is found guilty. Most of the CAS jurisprudence suggests that a body must be at least “comfortably satisfied” as with doping offences, before finding a charge proven. Whilst many UK sports bodies have rules based on the civil standard of proof, in cases where the allegation is serious (such as all cases of match fixing), particularly cogent evidence of wrongdoing shall normally be necessary.

Sports bodies also need to develop their own anti-corruption units (as the English Cricket Board, amongst others, have done) that work with regulated betting agencies, the police and lawyers to investigate and prosecute those involved in match fixing, as well as sharing information between sports.  Ultimately, something like WADA, an international anti-corruption in sport body, with an international code, may be necessary to stamp out what has become the biggest threat to the integrity of sport today.

Jacques Rogge, the former president of the International Olympic Committee, recently said that match-fixing and illegal gambling were now a greater threat to the integrity of sport than doping. Perhaps that is some tribute to the work that organisations like WADA and the various sports bodies have done to fight doping over the last decade or so, but it is also a reminder that unless similar strong and co-ordinated action is taken against match fixing, the future of sport is in grave danger.

Nick De Marco was led by Ian Mill QC in the cricket anti-corruption case, ECB v Kaneria; Adam Lewis QC chaired the recent disciplinary tribunal that banned Stephen Lee for 12 years from snooker.

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