Opinion 4th December 2015

Russia’s attempts to tackle unlawful influence over sport results

It has been a criminal offence to manipulate a sporting competition in Russia since 1996, when Article 184 of the criminal code established imprisonment and fines for either organising or being involved with match-fixing. According to public resources, since 1996 not one person has been convicted under Article 184, despite FIFA and Europol launching investigations into match-fixing in Russian football. In this article, we will examine whether the problem exists and what is being done to tackle it.

Introduction

A sporting event can be manipulated for a variety of reasons. The common perception is that an attempt to fix a game is based on an attempt to profit from betting on a known result, such as the final score, or an individual event in a game. However, modern sport is intertwined with business activities where commercial legal entities try to make money from every sporting competition. As in any aspect of life, where money is at stake, corruption can prosper.

Match-fixing can exist not only in team sports but also in individual sports as well. Thus, match-fixing can exist in swimming. For example, eight swimmers qualify for the 100 metres freestyle final. There are also two substitute swimmers. Afterwards, one of those eight swimmers sells his place to one of the substitute swimmers. This constitutes unlawful influence (because that swimmer did not have the right to participate in the final) on sporting competition results.

We have seen such a situation develop in tennis. Italian Walter Trusendi telephoned French player Elie Rousset after contracting a fever, to say that he would withdraw from the Mohammedia Challenger tournament in Morocco, if Rousset would give him the first round prize money of €326 he would have received for competing.

In this article, we will consider whether match-fixing exists in Russia, will define the legislation which is aimed at combating match-fixing and will take a look at measures which are being taken to tackle the issue and to protect the integrity of modern sport, using the example of one of a team sport national federations.

A history lesson

In 2013, FIFA and Europol both launched investigations into match-fixing in Russian football. FIFA suspected that 12 matches may have been fixed, however little has been heard about either investigation since then. “Speaking generally, the integrity of the game is a top priority for FIFA and as such, we take any allegations of match manipulation very seriously”, said a FIFA spokesperson. “In relation to the matter referred to, we kindly refer you to the Russian authorities, who are best placed to provide clarification on this specific issue”. The Russian football union (RFU) and Europol failed to respond.

So, what has Russia been doing? Perhaps anticipating FIFA and Europol’s investigations, Russia put into force an amendment to its Law on Sport in July 2013, specifically dealing with match-fixing. Article 26.2 of the 2007 Federal Law No.329-FZ, dated 4 December 2007 ‘On Physical Culture and Sport in the Russian Federation’ (as amended, hereinafter – ‘Law on Sport) prescribes that unlawful influence over official sporting competition results constitutes the following actions committed with a view to the achievement of a particular result or an outcome of a sporting competition:

• Bribery of athletes, sports judges, coaches and other participants or organisers of official sporting competitions; and
• Receipt of money, bonds or other property by athletes, sports judges, coaches and other participants or organisers of an official sporting competition.

The Russian Criminal Code of June 13, 1996 No.63-FZ (hereinafter – ‘Code’) includes one article establishing criminal liability for exercising influence on the results of official sporting competitions or spectacular contests. Thus, Par.1 of Article 184 of the Code provides that ‘bribery of athletes, sports judges, coaches, team leaders, and other participants or organisers of official sporting competitions, and also organisers of profit-making entertainment competitions, with the purpose of exerting influence on results of these competitions or contests is punishable by a fine in the amount from 300,000 [€4,000] to 500,000 [€6,800] Rubles, compulsory work for a period up to four years or imprisonment for a period up to four years’.

Par. 3 of this article prescribes that ‘receipt by athletes, coaches, team leaders or other participants of money, securities, or any other property transferred to them for the purpose of exerting influence on results of official sporting competitions, and also the illegal use by athletes of property-related services granted to them for the same purposes, is punishable by a fine in the amount from 300,000 to 500,000 Rubles, compulsory work for a period up to four years or imprisonment for a period up to four years’. 

No prosecutions

Since the Law on Sport was amended in July 2013, there have been several criminal investigations relating to unlawful influence over official sporting competitions conducted by Russian law enforcement agencies. However, as of the date of this article, nobody has been sentenced by a court for the crime prescribed by Article 184 of the Code, according to public resources.

Is there a problem in the first place?

We believe that match-fixing exists in Russia in a limited way. Since match-fixing is an latent activity, it is very difficult to detect unlawful influence over the results of a particular sporting competition or profit-making contest. We believe that match-fixing exists at mid-level sporting competitions where players do not earn a lot of money. In FIFPro’s Black Book, almost half of the respondents from Russia (43.5%) said they were aware of match-fixing in their particular league.

Football analysts note that there are many ‘strange’ games in the Russian football. We note that some governmental officials report that the issue of match-fixing has been resolved. However, most analysts believe that the Russian sport is experiencing a problem with match-fixing.

What measures are being taken to tackle the issue?

The RFU has formed an office of the Presidential advisor on anti-corruption issues and protection from fixed games. The advisor is tacked with combatting corruption and protecting Russian football from fixed games.

The RFU has amended its Disciplinary Regulations by adding provisions imposing sporting sanctions for organising or attempting to organise a fixed game. An attempt to organise a fixed game must be confirmed by a court ruling, in which case an individual can be subjected to a fine up to five million Rubles (€70,600), or 30 million Rubles (€423,300) for legal entities, as well as a disqualification for up to one year and/or a ban from football activities for a period of not less than one year. For the organisation of a fixed game, if confirmed by a court ruling, an individual can be subjected to a five million Ruble fine, or 50 million Rubles (€706,700) for legal entities, as well as a disqualification of up to two years and/or a life ban from football activities.

The RFU organises and takes part in conferences, round tables, symposiums and seminars devoted to match-fixing; as well as working with betting shops, totalisators and law enforcement agencies. Through these arrangements, the RFU notifies the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs of suspected match-fixing. The RFU communicates with betting operators as well. Several betting operators have entered into collaboration agreements with the RFU and the Russian Football League, according to which bookmakers provide valuable information on what is going on in the betting markets, especially if there are any suspicious events.

According to Russian law, sporting competition organisers must include a provision prohibiting unlawful influence over competition results when drafting rules and regulations. If a competition organiser fails to fulfil such an obligation, it can be fined up to one million Rubles (€14,200) under Article 6.22 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences. In addition, betting operators can only accept bets on official sporting competitions and pay winnings when a bettor provides a document certifying his identity.

What else can be done to prevent further fixed games?

Officials from sporting federations would love to be able to monitor telephone calls between betting operators, competition participants and their representatives. However, according to Russian law, this measure can be used only by law enforcement agencies when investigating a pending criminal case. We believe that betting shops and sports federations should create a data system to control all books made by individuals connected with a particular sporting competition.

Conclusion

Russia has recently been under the spotlight due to allegations that Russian athletics federation (ARAF) officials helped to cover up positive doping tests, as part of a system described as ‘systemic doping’. Following a ban imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Russia is keen to demonstrate that it is determined to change – a Bill has been put forward to the State Duma suggesting that assisting or encouraging athletes to dope should be made a criminal offence.

However, the law means little if it is not enforced. Importantly, the Bill provides for liability of athlete support personnel only. It is astonishing that not a single prosecution has been brought forward under Russian criminal match-fixing legislation since 1996, especially as the law was ‘toughened’ in 2013 following investigations by FIFA and Europol. As we have mentioned, evidence from FIFPro and football analysts suggests that there is a problem. It appears that the current sports system needs to undergo substantial changes by taking both organisational and legal measures to solve both issues, otherwise it risks accusations of paying lip-service to its problems.

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