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Tom Hickman’s recent blog on the Stephen Lee case may have prompted some readers to wonder what the European Commission is up to in relation to the “fight against match-fixing”.

A lot of noise has come out of Brussels on this topic since 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty brought pursuit of an EU sports policy within the express competences of the Union (in Article 165 TFEU).  Match-fixing: is a “transnational challenge” which would benefit from action at the EU level (Commission Communication COM (2011) 12 final, §1.2); is a “priority theme” in the Council’s and Member States’ EU Work Plan for Sport 2011-2014 (adopted by Resolution 2011/C 162/01); was mentioned in another Commission Communication in 2012 (COM/2012/0596 final, §2.5); was the focus of recommendations by XG GG, the EU Expert Group on Good Governance in Sport – yes, there exists such a body, established pursuant to the Work Plan – in 2012; and has been the subject of repeated calls for action, by participants in the EU Sport Forum 2012, by the Council and Member States in November 2012, and by the European Parliament in March 2013.

On 6 November 2013, the Commission announced two new studies, one to cover ‘risk assessment and management and prevention of conflicts of interest in the prevention and fight against betting-related match-fixing’, and the other ‘the sharing of information and reporting of suspicious sports betting activity’.  The purpose of the studies is, in short, to examine national and international systemes for combating match-fixing, and ‘[t]o draw conclusions with regard to the possibility for the EU to act to improve the situation on the basis of identified problems’.  So the Commission – rather, the Commission’s consultants – are still thinking about it.

The studies are expected to be complete by mid-2014.  The Commission’s ultimate goal is to issue a Recommendation on betting-related match-fixing (see Communication COM/2012/0596 final, §2.5.2), with a view to promoting information exchange and mutual reporting, establishing minimum conflict of interest provisions, and introducing whistleblowing hotlines or similar measures.

A Recommendation can hardly be expected before 2015.  Considering the priority status of anti-match-fixing policy under the Work Plan, and the repeated declarations of the EU institutions, this is hardly an impressive pace of policy-making; and the Commission’s provisional plans are far from radical.  Governing bodies and Member States wishing to see decisive action against match-fixing in the shorter term had better take the initiative themselves.

Yet the growing field of EU sports policy on match-fixing (as on other subjects) is nonetheless of considerable significance for sports lawyers.  Governing bodies will no doubt frame their rules and identify regulatory priorities with an eye to the mood in Brussels.  And in contentious situations – where, say, the proportionality of a penalty is under a scrutiny, or a restriction on competition is being justified – the pronouncements of the EU institutions on the importance of fighting match-fixing, however superficially ineffectual, may carry considerable forensic clout.

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