SII Focus 10th April 2015

Data sharing to combat match-fixing: ICSS & UNODC team up

On 15 April, the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will be hosting a conference entitled ‘Global Data Sharing for Effective Investigation and Prosecution in Match-Fixing Cases’. The conference, which is taking place in Doha, Qatar, will include high-level speakers such as Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director and former Russian Ambassador in the UK; Stanislas Frossard, Executive Secretary of the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS) at the Council of Europe; Lord Moynihan, politician and former Chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA) and more. To view the full agenda, click here. The Sports Integrity Initiative spoke to Stuart Page (pictured, left), the ICSS’s Director of International Policy and Anti-Corruption, about how the conference is designed to harbour better relations and information sharing between all the organisations interested in tackling match-fixing.

Effective prosecution of match-fixing has always been a difficult issue. On the one hand, sport has its own rules and judicial system, which has received recognition from European Union institutions. Sport is understandably keen to protect this independence from ordinary courts of law, otherwise every decision regarding a breach of sporting rules could face legal challenge. On the other hand, match-fixing attempts are often international in nature, and involve links to criminal organisations, necessitating the involvement of international law enforcement organisations.

Deciding who has jurisdiction in such cases is a difficult issue. At what stage does match-fixing become a criminal offence? When it does become a criminal offence, how much data should sporting organisations hand over to law enforcement? Could the handing over of such data jeopardise their own – often separate – cases against athletes under their jurisdiction for breaching sport’s rules? In handing over its data to law enforcement organisations, is sport breaching its recognised right to settle sporting disputes outside of the courts?

Law enforcement authorities and gambling operators have been guilty of taking the viewpoint that match-fixing is ‘sport’s problem’. Operators are willing to hand over data to sporting organisations, but are often unwilling to commit further resources towards tackling the issue, fairly arguing that they already pay a large amount of tax that should go towards tackling the problem. Law enforcement are often unwilling to take on match-fixing cases, due to pressure to solve ‘serious’ crimes. When they do take on such cases, they are often unwilling to share information with sporting authorities prosecuting any involved athletes for breaching sporting rules, for fear of jeopardising the criminal investigation.

The ICSS and UNODC conference will discuss how to get past these issues. It is intended to highlight that match-fixing is one of the most common pathways for organised crime to corrupt sport, and to garner the involvement of sport, public, private and law enforcement authorities into a joined-up approach to tackling the problem. This includes developing mechanisms for data and intelligence exchange between all the bodies involved in this area.

“There are many things the meeting is designed to address”, explained Stuart Page, the ICSS’s Director of International Policy and Anti-Corruption. “The first thing – which is the core element within match-fixing globally – is that law enforcement agencies in different countries need to exchange data more efficiently. Because match-fixing is a global crime, police need to be able to go to intermediaries, which could mean people trading online from Malta, the money being held in South-East Asia etc. At the moment, they can’t do that because, unfortunately, the crime of match-fixing is often an international and transnational organised crime. The aftermath of the crime could affect a game played in the UK, but the match-fixers are often based offshore and the money is held offshore. This gives the match-fixers the opportunity to hide. There needs to be recognition that some sort of transnational constitution is needed, and that is why we are working with the UNODC.”

This idea involves the spontaneous exchange of data in this area between law enforcement authorities, private sector organisations such as sports betting operators, and sport itself. Internationally, the meeting will discuss how this can happen within the framework of ad hoc international conventions. For example, how the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC), the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and the Council of Europe Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions can be used to facilitate this exchange of data. It will also discuss how cooperation between law enforcement organisations – such as through joint task forces – could be set up.

Page said that the meeting will seek to develop a formal framework for sports betting operators to share data with law enforcement. “The sports betting industry is estimated to be up to about US$1 trillion” he said. “That represents the regulated market. The black market is estimated at about US$500 billion – about half of the size of the regulated market. We want that to be regularised. Their algorithms need to recognise where the money is coming from. At the moment, this happens on an ad-hoc basis, but unfortunately many are just happy to see that there is money coming in and going out.”

Page also highlighted that match-fixing has piggybacked on sport’s growth as an economic powerhouse. He also suggested that match-fixing is not a growing problem as many have claimed, but that anti-corruption organisations are just getting better at spotting it. “In terms of whether match-fixing is a growing problem, I think it has always been there, it is just that we are getting better at identifying it. It also has a lot to do with the growth of sport in recent years. The money that is now in sport has changed things – it’s not a game of values anymore, it’s a game of economics. I recently saw an interesting article which said that the average value of a Major League Baseball franchise is $1.2 billion. On the back of this, the online offerings connected to sport have also grown. Sport has grown as an economic powerhouse, rather than match-fixing growing in particular.”

“The stakes are higher – sports clubs are no longer a mom and pop operation. If you look at what Manchester City are doing across the world, they are building a franchise. With such large amounts of money at stake, the potential for corruption has also grown.”

“This is why I invited Lord Moynihan to come to our event. His Governance of Sport Private Members Bill is an interesting development. He was right when he said that transparency, professional management and good governance in sport are essential to preserve sport’s integrity and as such, sport should be subject to the same level of scrutiny as companies that are listed on the stock exchange. Companies that are listed on the stock exchange face extreme fiduciary duties and have their books audited. Why not do the same for sport?”

Page also suggested that governments need to work on getting appropriate legislation approved to tackle match-fixing – a hard task given that it is a global crime. It is notoriously difficult to convict a person of the criminal offence of fixing a sporting event, given that the crime often takes place across jurisdictions. Clarity is needed on what constitutes a breach of sporting rules, and when that crosses the line to become a criminal offence, argues Page.

“You need to explain that an offshoot of match-fixing is tax evasion and money laundering”, he said. “Then the police and government will be more inclined to deal with the problem. This is an issue that governments need to work together on. We need to highlight that this is a global crime. We also need to put appropriate legislation in place in order to convict match-fixers. Every section of sport faces this threat – lower leagues, amateur…On a recent trip to Tanzania, I was astonished that I could go into a shop and place bets on Australian rugby league. I asked if anybody had actually seen Australian rugby league and the answer was no, but we do bet on it. As sport grows economically and more and more events go online, you can bet on almost any type of sport anywhere in the world. This presents a threat to sport’s integrity.”

As such, Page has presented an idea based on an initiative introduced in Australia – a 12-point plan designed to protect the integrity of sport, which has been named as the National Sports Integrity Model. This includes tackling corruption in sports caused by international organised crime; preserving the integrity and economics of sport; forming partnerships to bring legislation into force that can prosecute criminals who have damaged the integrity of sport; investigating the methods used by organised crime and more.

It also calls on sports with integrity to reject a number of problematic issues such as doping; recreational drug use; illegal sports gambling; match-fixing and competition manipulation; abuse of children and young people; sexual harassment, assault and violence; sports management malpractice; institutional fraud; corruption and more. Eventually, the goal is for each country to establish a National Sports Integrity Agency, and for that to feed into an International Sports Integrity Agency.

“There has to be a realisation that all the organisations connected to sport need to come on board and play a part”, explained Page. “I have proposed creating national sports integrity agencies, based on the Australian model. I went back and looked at what parts of the Australian model could really be improved. There should also be a requirement for sports betting operators to fund it.”

However, it is known that sports betting operators are not keen on the idea of creating other organisations that they will need to contribute to, let alone another international organisation such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Sports betting operators argue that they stand to lose as much from fixed sport as sporting organisations do, and they already monitor the markets for suspicious bets, alerting sporting authorities when malpractice is suspected.

Behind closed doors, they worry that they will not be able to stay competitive against the illegal market. They reasonably argue that they are heavily taxed (illegal bookmakers pay no tax) and in order to stay competitive against illegal offerings, their profit margins are small compared to the large amounts of money that are traded through their internet sites and betting shops. They fear that funding another WADA-type organisation could end up being counter-productive, by making them uncompetitive compared to the illegal market.

“I have come up against this argument”, agrees Page. “I would argue that operators should pay an indirect tax that goes directly towards funding a sports integrity body instead of going straight to the Inland Revenue. Give some of this funding back to the Inland Revenue, but the rest goes towards funding this organisation. Then, sports betting organisations will be able to say that their money has gone directly towards fighting illegal crime, and the more money that the police have to deal with these types of illegal crime, the more they’ll get business.”

“We want all of those things brought together under a sports integrity body”, continues Page. “Eventually, I do think that organisations such as WADA would handle doping as part of a larger international sports integrity body. It is all about criminality in sport, and what we are trying to do is eliminate criminality in sport. We need to get away from operating in silos and work together on all of this.”

As Page points out, even building a National Sports Integrity Body will require sporting organisations, gambling operators and other stakeholders to put forward a proposal to government for legislation. Establishing an international body would require further work at an international level. The 15 April meeting is intended to be a first step towards putting this plan into action.

“The sports industry can’t tackle this issue alone”, emphasises Page. “So what I’ve been doing is asking sports ministers need to back the idea of a sports integrity body and give it a try. They must try to bring in legislation to define where an attempt to fix a game becomes a criminal offence. The UN agencies need to look at the idea of legislative measures and attempt to untangle the security and corruption issues that exist in sport. Then you need to take it to the Olympic movement, and get them to explain to sport’s leaders that this is an Olympic issue.”

• ‘Global Data Sharing for Effective Investigation and Prosecution in Match-Fixing Cases’ will take place on 15 April in Doha, Qatar. To view the full agenda, click here.

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