SII Focus 15 July 2016

Sports Corruption 2016: external oversight needed to save sport

External oversight may now be needed in order to avoid a public perception that sport is inherently corrupt, heard delegates at Sport Corruption 2016, an MBL Seminars event that took place in London yesterday. Delegates also heard that sports betting operators could take a more responsible approach to issues created by the expansion of the sports betting market, in order to minimise the risk of corruption. Practical suggestions were also offered on how advisors and sports governing bodies can deal with a sports corruption event.

Just two (Norway and Portugal) of the 47 members of the Council of Europe (CoE) have signed its Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions since its launch in 2014. “Are we really doing all we can?” asked Stuart Cameron-Waller, an independent integrity in sport consultant who has previously worked for Interpol.

Case investigation issues

Nigel Mawer, Vice Chairman of the World Professional Billiards & Snooker Association (WPBSA), told delegates that sports governing bodies often face difficulties when trying to obtain information from bookmakers outside of the UK, which can hamper investigations into match-fixing. Information sharing between the police and sporting organisations was also highlighted as an issue. Sports governing bodies often require a court order to obtain information from a non-UK bookmaker – and no process exists for obtaining such a court order.

Speakers also said that often, if a criminal case against sports corruption fails, police are unable to share their investigatory information with a sports governing body. It must then begin its investigation again – by which time, much of the evidence will be out of date or deleted.

Also highlighted was the difficulty in getting police to engage with sports corruption, due to such cases being understandably placed low on the list of priorities for law enforcement. Sports governing bodies also face issues in that police will often not talk to them about the progress of an investigation, due to fears based around compromising that investigation.

Andy Brown of The Sports Integrity Initiative highlighted that many sports betting integrity organisations have bolstered their betting market monitoring systems with investigatory units, in order to cross the evidential threshold that sports authorities and criminal prosecutors need to bring a case forward. The idea is to find out the connections between the ‘foot soldiers’ – which the monitoring system will identify – and the organisers of the fix. This was previously left to sports organisations or the police, however they often have other priorities. By taking the information they can provide a level further, sports integrity companies hope that sports organisations and criminal organisations will take more cases forward towards a prosecutor.

Mawer also highlighted that such investigations take time and money. He pointed out that the Stephen Lee case was handed back to the WPBSA after a two-year criminal investigation came to the conclusion that Lee could not be charged, after which it had to begin its investigation again. The case ended up costing the WPBSA £190,000 and two sponsors, after a 2013 tweet from Ronnie O’Sullivan suggested that such match-fixing was widespread. It was also highlighted that an appeal against a sanction can often take longer than the sanction itself, making appeals appear pointless to the athlete.

Issues around the standard of proof required to take a criminal case forward were also raised. It was debated whether the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) requires a higher standard of proof for ‘celebrity’ sports corruption cases it feels it cannot lose than it does for lesser known athletes. Investigations can also be hampered by questions over jurisdiction when corruption takes place across borders. A pertinent example raised was in which jurisdiction would a case seeking to recover damages as a result of bribes paid to FIFA executives be heard?

Rule requirements

The necessity of monitoring social media and its usefulness in tracking the links between those involved in corruption in sport was mentioned by many speakers. It emerged that many sports now have rules in place that require athletes to give up their social media passwords once they are placed under investigation, so that such links can be tracked. The WPBSA has such rules in place, whilst the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) rules are understood to go a step further, requiring players to relinquish their mobile phone and financial records as well.

Perception of bias also presents an issue particular to sport, due to its multiple roles in protecting and supporting the athletes; selling the sport to commercial partners; and prosecuting officials and athletes involved in doping and corruption. Nick de Marco of Blackstone Chambers highlighted the importance of not just avoiding actual bias in the composition of disciplinary panels, but also avoiding the perception of bias.

He used the example of the International Council of Arbitration for Sports (ICAS), whose members are nominated by sport. Those members also nominate arbitrators who they say represent the interests of the athletes. He said that this perception of bias is leading athletes to seek to resolve cases outside of the sporting arbitration system, such as Claudia Pechstein.

This perception is exacerbated by the fact that the CAS doesn’t publish all of its decisions. This leads to the situation where a sporting body will hold all of the decisions relating to it, yet those previous decisions may not all be available to an athlete seeking to defend themselves against a sanction issued by that governing body. It was suggested that this puts the sporting organisation at an unfair advantage.

Other side issues

• Should life bans be rescindable?
• £500,000 is bet on the Welsh Premier League every week.
• ‘Lex FIFA’ came into effect in July, allowing Swiss authorities to investigate private bribery allegations that were not previously against Swiss law.
• There are over 60 cases of ‘misdemeanour’ in darts each year, however match-fixing does not yet appear to be a problem.
• ‘Cold starts’ – you can fix a match to win as well as ‘throw’ a match to lose.
• Spot-fixing and in-play betting are not yet much of an issue, as the low total amounts spent on these forms of betting make any large bets suspicious.
• New betting products offered by bookmakers can create particular monitoring issues for sports governing bodies.
• The media are often reluctant to release information to sports governing bodies conducting a corruption investigation.

Sport is broken

The popularity of e-sports and gambling amongst the younger generation raised the prospect that in their eyes, the integrity of sport may have already been irreparably damaged. Delegates agreed that sport needs to do something dramatic to restore trust, otherwise young people will perceive that sport is inherently corrupt. The idea of a global integrity body to regulate sporting organisations was once again raised as a realistic prospect.

Historically, the European Union has allowed sport a great deal of freedom to regulate itself and operate its own quasi-legal system. Sport is not exempt from EU law, but the European Commission’s White Paper on Sport in 2007 recognised that sport is different from business and the importance of allowing it to set its own rules, terms the ‘autonomy’ of sport.

“Federations who fail to meet the highest ethical standards must face greater scrutiny – and if need be, our full regulatory power”, EU Sport Commissioner Tibor Navracsics recently told the EU Sports Forum on good governance. “I will soon invite sport federations big and small to commit publicly to good governance principles. I will launch this initiative during the second European Week of Sport in September.” Sport has three months to regain athletes’ trust and convince the EU that it has earned its right to autonomy.

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