An Overview of Match Fixing in Sport
By Fatema Merchant
The recent averments made by Mohammed Amir that he was blackmailed into bowling no-ball deliveries by Mazhar Majeed and the spot fixing assertions against professional football, volleyball and baseball players of South Korea have brought the much debated issue of match fixing in sporting activities under the spotlight once again. The practice of fixing and rigging fundamentally sprung up to ensure favourable results and outcomes of matches to protect investments made in illegal bets and wagers. The flourishing illegal betting business gave an impetus to this unsanctioned activity which has gradually infected most of the sporting disciplines leading to large scale corruption in them.
What primarily began as an activity to influence players or officials to do or refrain from doing something to manipulate the proceedings of the match has steadily evolved into a more complex practice where novel and deceitful methods are being used to lure players, coaches, officials, etc., to participate in such activities. In addition, instead of manipulating player performance in a game or a match, certain interested individuals try to procure sensitive insider information crucial to the match and most importantly its outcome, from players and other individuals who might be in a position to provide the information. Such information could be in the nature of player injuries, inclusion or exclusion of certain players in matches, etc.
This article briefly discusses some of the prominent match fixing episodes in different sports that have affected professional sport.
The United States of America received an early shock with respect to match fixing in sporting events when their baseball team Chicago Black Sox, the favourites to win the World Series in 1919 lost the series. Though their loss came as a surprise for everyone, no one raised any questions with respect to whether the matches were intentionally thrown away. The scam was exposed in the 1920 while authorities were investigating another match fixing scandal in baseball when the Giants’ striker revealed that he saw a letter addressed to his team which stated that Black Sox would lose the 1919 series. This acted as a trigger as guilty players, gamblers and other individuals involved in the fixing gradually began to surface with the truth. Investigations were carried out as more and more players confessed to taking bribes from gamblers. The trial finally began on June 27, 1921 where the players faced charges of conspiring against the public and the business of the American League in addition to other offences. The jury found the eight accused players not guilty of the offences they were charged, as the player confessions which formed the bulk of the evidence mysteriously disappeared before the trial. Though the players were allowed to walk as free men on a technical issue, they were barred for life from participating in the sport by the then Baseball Commissioner.
The match fixing scandal which was unearthed in 2006 with respect to the illegal rigging activities during the 2005 season which involved major teams of the Serie A and Serie B leagues of Italian Football was one of the major debacles in the sporting industry. The illegal activities were discovered after the police investigated telephonic transcripts and discovered the managers of major teams such as Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina had indulged in prohibited activities such as tampering with the referee appointment to secure favourable referees for their matches. The consequences of the discovery, was that the Champions title was taken away from Juventus and they were relegated to Serie B from Serie A. In addition all the five implicated teams also suffered a reduction in their points in the league table. The scandal which shook the country also saw the resignation of Franco Carraro the then President of the Italian Football Federation and the entire Juventus’ board of directors.
In 2011, Italian football received another setback when, Cristiano Doni the then captain of the Atlanta team and other players were arrested for the offences of fixing Serie B matches in which Atlanta was one of the participant teams and certain Serie A matches. It was alleged that Doni attempted to tamper with the outcome of quite a few Atlanta matches in order to secure Atlanta’s promotion to Serie A, the highest division of football league in Italy, which he did on the behest of certain unknown individuals who promised him monetary returns. Though the matter is still under investigation and UEFA is yet to take a call whether it wants to take any action against the offenders, the Italian football federation’s disciplinary committee has banned Doni from participating in the sport for three and a half years.
In 2005, a year before Germany hosted the Football World Cup the country witnessed the unfolding of one of the major match fixing scandals in its sporting history. The scandal which was estimated at approximately 2 million Euros was primarily orchestrated by a second division referee Robert Hoyzer. Robert Hoyzer himself confessed to the illegal betting activities and also assisted the authorities in unveiling the nature of the scheme, the people involved and other relevant details during the investigations. It was found that Hoyzer was acting in collusion with a betting syndicate operated by three brothers (Sapina Brothers) in return for financial gains. On the basis of his revelations the authorities arrested a few individuals including certain players such as Alexander Madlung, Nando Rafael and Josip Simunic for their involvement in the illegal activities. Detailed investigations and inquiries were undertaken and it was discovered that the betting and rigging activities such as controversial penalty corners, sending off players for no justified reason, etc., were not carried out in the Bundesliga but the lower division matches. The investigations were concluded and Hoyzer was awarded a life ban from any association with football and was also awarded a twenty nine months imprisonment term. In addition certain other officials were also convicted for active participation in match fixing activities or being silent spectators and not reporting the activities of which they had prior knowledge of, with different imprisonment sentences. This was one of the instances in sporting history where match officials played such a major role in the fixing activities. The prime accused in this case willingly confessed to his guilt, which is a rare phenomenon, as the accused in such cases generally deny all the allegations and charges against them.
The South Korean sporting industry has been swamped with match fixing scandals involving players from various sporting disciplines including football, volleyball, baseball, etc. In 2011, K-League banned 10 of its football players from participation in the league along with imposing hefty fines on them for their involvement and participation in match fixing activities and accepting huge sums of money from illegal betting agencies to manipulate the results of the match. Some of the players that were banned included striker Kim Dong-hyun and Choi Sung-Kuk. The latter has also been banned for life by FIFA.
In 2012, the country was once again faced with fresh match fixing issues, this time around, in volleyball and baseball. The Korean Volleyball Federation in the country banned 11 of its volleyball players from participating in the sport. Out of the 11 players, 2 were women’s volleyball players and four belonged to the military athletics team. The men were implicated for rigging between one to eight matches that took place over the last two seasons whereas the two women were convicted for intentionally under performing in the matches to procure financial emoluments. In addition to the bans, the players have also been fined for such unsanctioned conduct.
The country, which has been considerably shaken with the recurring match fixing cases in the past two years, has decided to adopt a stern disciplinary approach which includes imposing a life ban on offenders in addition to spreading awareness among the players and educating them to effectively tackle match fixing.
The sport of tennis is also not a stranger to match fixing. On 23rd March, 2012, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the decision of the Anti-Corruption Hearing Officer (AHO) and confirmed the lifetime ban imposed on the Australian tennis player Daniel Koellerer. The AHO while implementing the anti-corruption code found Daniel Koellerer guilty of the offences of attempting to contrive the outcome of a match and inviting, soliciting and offering money, benefit or other consideration to other players with the intention to fix matches. The AHO alleged that Koellerer indulged in the illegal activities five times between October 2009 and July 2010.
The anti- corruption code is a comprehensive legal body of rules which was adopted in 2008 by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the Grand Slam Committee and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) was initiated by the above organizations to keep corruption and other illegal activities in the sport at bay. Under the code the TIU has been empowered to conduct investigations into a corruption matter and report its findings to the AHO who would then preside over the hearing and pronounce a decision which is appealable only in the CAS.
The TIU, which carried out a lengthy investigation into the alleged offences, submitted its reports and findings to the AHO, which pronounced its verdict on 31st March, 2011. The AHO imposed a fine of $100,000 on Koellerer and permanently barred him from participating in any event organized or sanctioned by the tennis governing bodies. Aggrieved by the order of the AHO, Koellerer filed an appeal in the CAS on 28th June, 2011 questioning the standard of proof method provided in the anti-corruption code. The CAS after hearing the arguments presented by the opposing sides decided in favor of the governing bodies of tennis and upheld the ban imposed on Koellerer. However, it set aside the hefty fine that he was asked to pay to the governing bodies.
However, not long before this landmark case, the fans of the sport across the world received a rude shock when Nicolay Davydenko, the Russian player got embroiled in a match fixing debacle after he lost a match to Martín Vassallo Arguello of Argentina in 2007 in Sopot, Poland. Nicolay Davydenko sparked off the controversy when Betfair an online betting portal reported an irregular betting pattern to the ATP as substantial amount of money was being placed on Arguello during the match even though Davydenko had won the first set. The match, which was placed at one set all, was prematurely terminated in the third set after Davydenko decided to retire citing a foot injury. Betfair who had intimated the ATP on earlier occasions of suspicious patterns and fluctuations in the betting activity during matches to aid the organization to detect, investigate, prevent and apprehend the culprits, informed the ATP of the betting pattern in the aforesaid match as the inflow of money was approximately ten times more when compared to matches of a similar stature. This sparked serious doubts and fears in the minds of the tennis body on the availability of inside information to bettors and bookmakers from the performing players which led them to conduct a thorough study and examination of the matter. The TIU carried out an extensive inquisition including inspection of phone records of the accused, their family members and their team personnel and members to unearth any traces of collusion on part of the players The ATP finally concluded the matter on 12th September, 2008 by dropping all the charges against Davydenko and Arguello and put an end to the agony of the accused players.
As we discuss and deliberate on the match fixing scandals of the past, new debacles are being uncovered across different jurisdictions. At present the Asia World Cup (football) qualifier match between Bahrain and Indonesia is being investigated by FIFA, wherein Bahrain managed a spectacular feat by scoring ten goals while conceding none. In addition the chairman of the of the Turkish football club Fenerbahçe Aziz Yıldırım, is facing a trial for an attempt to fix close to 19 matches of the Turkish Football Lig.
In order to combat the evils of match fixing, it is important that sporting organizations across the world join hands to adopt a united and an integrated approach. The proactive participation of the players, coaches, match officials, etc., in curbing such activities is of significant importance too, as after all, they are the ones who are approached and lured by bookies to engage in such activities. Though strict sanctions, such as a lifetime ban from participation in the sport if found guilty may prove to be a strong deterrent factor, the issue which needs immediate attention is the development of a strong mechanism to detect such illegal activities in time so that instant action can be taken against the wrongdoers. Though entrapment, phone tapping, etc., can serve as useful aids, they might come under legal scrutiny if they infringe on an individual’s privacy or induce an innocent individual to commit a wrong he would otherwise not have.
Perhaps the most challenging task before the governing bodies of sport, players, officials, etc., is to maintain the integrity of sport as even isolated match fixing incidents may scar the fans, followers and supporters of the sport, for life. The idea or notion of match fixing, once implanted, will develop into a strong conviction which will lead them to question and suspect every outstanding performance or feat which may have been the product of sheer sporting excellence, hard work or even luck.
© The Sports Law & Policy Centre