Sports law and the issue of match-fixing- review of football with relevant cases

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Match-fixing involves the manipulation of an outcome or contingency by competitors, teams, sports agents, support staff, referees and officials and venue staff. It can include the deliberate fixing of the result of a contest, an occurrence or points spread within a contest, deliberate underperformance, withdrawal (also known as ‘tanking’, ‘manipulation’ and ‘experimenting’), an officials deliberate misapplication of the rules of the contest, interference with the play or playing surface, or abuse of insider information to support a bet placed.It is argued that match-fixing hollows out sport as it destroys the one aspect that is essential – the uncertainty of outcome. It is trust and belief in this uncertainty that draws many people to sport, and without it, totally comprises the meaning and integrity of sport. In this Unit, students will gain an insight into the nature and extent of this issue, and discuss the implications for those who engage in such illegal activity and those who monitor and protect against it.

Sports law and the issue of match-fixing- review of football with relevant cases
AuthorAnushree Sharma
Published on14/09/2018
Last Updates14/09/2018

Football, like other sports, is certainly entertainment, but it is also far more than that. It mirrors our society, and serves as the repository for some of our most cherished values. Children and adults look to athletes as heroes, drawn by the aspects of character that play out on the pitch: Determination, grit, talent, respect, fair play, and justice. At their best, sports in general – and football in particular –are the stage on which we strive for physical, even spiritual greatness. They are a significant ingredient in the social glue that binds modern society together. Match-fixing erodes all of this. When sports become a model of corruption, the demoralizing effect influences all of society. Athletes are heroes, especially of the young. When the heroes are corrupt, we have a very undesirable type of role model setting the bar for our youth. The important crucible of identity and values that sports comprise is stolen from our society.

Even more tangible things are stolen as well. Fans who pay for tickets and cable subscriptions are defrauded. Legal gamblers have their money stolen by the fixers, and the entire sports industry –from players, referees and coaches to the clubs, their directors, and advertisers – loses when disillusioned fans stop coming.

Add to that the violence and the benefits of match-fixing to organized crime, and we have, as a society, a significant problem on our hands. In response to this problem, INTERPOL and FIFA entered into a ten-year agreement in 2011 to work together to combat match-fixing. In a word, the essential goal of our efforts against match-fixing is prevention. Prevention through education, and prevention through law enforcement.


Match-fixing, for the purpose of this report, can be defined as the manipulation of the course or result of a sporting event for an advantage. This could be a competitive advantage such as avoiding relegation at the end of the season or gaining a favourable draw in a competition. Another advantage is to manipulate the match for the purposes of making a profit from gambling on the result. It is this type of advantage that is the main focus of the INTERPOL-FIFA initiative.While match-fixing in sport is not a new phenomenon, there has been an increase in recent years in the amount of fixing for the purpose of gaining a profit from gambling. Factors contributing to this increase are the involvement of transnational organized crime groups and the growth and breadth of online sports betting markets – both legal and illegal.

Purpose: Sport match-fixing has emerged as a complex global problem. The purpose of this study is twofold. First, it critically reviews how match-fixing is typified as policy problem. Second, it advances an analysis of the legal framework and regulatory system for sports betting as a causal source for ‘routinised’ match-fixing.

Design/methodology/approach: This study extracts and synthesises (cross-national) materials from policies, media releases and scholarly works on the subject of match-fixing and sports betting. The analysis is framed by the contrasts between rational choice and sociological institutionalist approaches.

Findings: Match-fixing is typically attributed to

• (1) criminal organisations and illegal sports betting

• (2) vulnerable individuals; and

• (3) failure of governance on the part of sports organisations. Each cause holds assumptions of utility-maximising actors and it is argued that due consideration be given to the fundamental risks inherent in legal sports betting regimes.

Research limitations/implications: Match-fixing in sport is a recurrent social problem, transcending national boundaries and involving a wide range of actors and, sporting disciplines and levels of competition. Within such an environment, it may matter little how strong the incentive structures and education programmes are, when betting on human beings is both normatively and cognitively advanced as a value and institutionally permitted as a practice. *Originality/value: This paper argues that legal betting regimes paradoxically contribute to routinised match-fixing because: a) for betting customers there is no qualitative, ethical difference between legal and illegal operators and, b) legalisation serves to normalise and legitimate the view of athletes as objects for betting (like cards or dice).

In the small amount of available literature on sport corruption there is much debate as to what constitutes corrupt practices in the field of match-fixing (Maening 2005, 187-225). Some authors emphasise the link to betting activities -for example the French research centre IRIS defines sporting corruption as any manipulation or attempted manipulation of a result or aspect of a game with the aim of securing financial gains on the sports betting market (Iris 2012). Gorse and Chadwick adopt a broader approach, defining sport corruption as “any illegal, immoral or unethical activity that attempts to deliberately distort the result of a sporting contest (or any element of it) for the personal material gain of one or more parties involved in that activity” (Gorse and Chadwick 2011).

The definition of match-fixing provided by the Australian Sport Minister (Sport and Recreation Ministers’ Council Communiqué 2011) is even more complete: “Match-fixing involves the manipulation of an outcome or contingency by competitors, teams, sports agents, support staff, referees and officials and venue staff. Such conduct includes:

a. the deliberate fixing of the result of a contest, or of an occurrence within the contest, or of a points spread;

b. deliberate underperformance;

c. withdrawal (tanking)

d. an official’s deliberate misapplication of the rules of the contest;

e. interference with the play or playing surfaces by venue staff; and

f. abuse of insider information to support a bet placed by any of the above or placed by a gambler who has recruited such people to manipulate an outcome or contingency”.

The definition provided in this study echoes the essential elements of the one provided by the recent Recommendation of the Council of Europe on promotion of the integrity of sport against manipulation of results, notably match-fixing. Accordingly:

The manipulation of sports results covers the arrangement on an irregular alteration of the course or the result of a sporting competition or any of its particular events (e.g. matches, races…) in order to obtain financial advantage, for oneself or for other, and remove all or part of the uncertainty normally associated with the results of a competition. This covers match-fixing specifically, and exclude doping and public order violation such as hooliganism.


As long as people have had something to gain or lose, corruption has been known to play its part in any final result. Between 1893 and 1898 promotion and relegation between the divisions in the Football League wasn’t decided by where any given team finished in the league as it is nowadays. Instead a pre-cursor of the modern idea of ‘play-offs’ was used, known as ‘Test Matches’ as a nod towards the more popular game of Cricket.

To being with the Test Matches were, as the play-offs are today, direct games between the teams leading to a final. But for two years from 1896 a round-robin format was introduced, meaning the teams played each other in what was essentially a mini-league. In 1898 Stoke and Burnley went into their final Test Match game against each knowing that the earlier results of the new round-robin system meant a draw would see them both gain promotion.

Unsurprisingly the match ended in a 0-0 draw, with the Athletic News scathing in its criticism of the blatant collusion that the two teams made very little attempt to hide. A match report after the incident stated, “The teams could have done without goalkeepers, so anxious were the forwards not to score”. It caused the Football League to first expand the First Division to eighteen clubs in order to allow all four clubs involved in the Test Matches to have the opportunity of promotion, then they abandoned it all together.

In 1915 a game between Liverpool and Manchester United caused some suspicion when United won 2-0 after a lacklustre performance from the Merseyside club. After the game it was alleged that a large amount of money had been placed on that very scoreline with odds of 7/1. The Football Association investigated and discovered that players from both sides had been in on the scam, with seven footballers banned from the game for life as a result, though it did help United avoid relegation. Such a similar collusion seems unlikely from the two rivals nowadays!

Over the course of the game's history, several incidents relating to match-fixing in English football have taken place.

In 1978 Argentina were hosting the World Cup and went into the last Group B game against Peru knowing that they’d have to win by at least four clear goals if they were to progress to the final at the expense of Brazil. The hosts were 2-0 up at half-time, with Peru’s defence seeming to crumble during the second-half, despite having a reputation as one of the best defences in the competition.

The match ended in a 6-0 rout, with video footage showing the Peru goalkeeper not even bothering to make a save and the defenders standing around with their hands on their hips as Argentina’s players poured forward to score. Remarkably FIFA took no action after the game, deciding that all seemed to be above board. And how did Argentina know how many goals they needed to score in order to qualify? Their match was delayed until after Brazil’s game was over do to mysterious ‘security concerns’…

Argentina Team 1978

One of the most high-profile incidents in modern times, though, comes from Italy in 2006. It’s a complicated story that we’ll try to boil down as simply as we can. In essence it involved the top clubs in Italy working together with the head of the Italian Referee’s Association to ensure the selection of preferred officials for their matches.

The obviously result of this, of course, was the match referees then made decisions that favoured the side who had ‘insisted’ on their appointment, meaning that they won more games than they lost. The aftermath saw Juventus, one of the main perpetrators of the crime, stripped of their Serie A title win and relegated to Serie B for the following season. Fiorentina and Lazio were also relegated, whilst AC Milan were allowed to remain in Serie A but began the season with a fifteen point deficit.

19th Century Test match collusion :

From 1893–1898, a form of play-offs known as test matches were used to decide promotion and relegation between the two divisions of the Football League. Initially they were direct ties between two teams, but from 1896 a round-robin format was used. In the 1898 test matches, earlier results meant Stoke and Burnley went into the final test match knowing a draw would result in promotion for both teams. In their 0–0 draw, the pair made little attempt to hide their collusion. The Athletic News reported that "the teams could have done without goalkeepers, so anxious were the forwards not to score". The Football League resolved the ensuing scandal by expanding the First Division from 16 to 18 clubs, allowing promotion for all four of the clubs who participated in the test matches. The test match system was then abandoned.

Billy Meredith bribery suspension :

On the final day of the 1904–05 season, Aston Villa and Manchester City played a particularly bad-tempered game, in which a number of fights broke out.[3] Four months later, it emerged that Villa captain Alec Leake had come forward with an accusation: that City's Billy Meredith had offered him £10 to allow City to win. The Football Association suspended Meredith until April 1906.[4] Meredith, who had not been permitted to give evidence at the hearing, protested his innocence.[5] Later, however, while engaged in a dispute with Manchester City over whether he should be paid during his suspension, he spoke out on the matter. He admitted the bribery attempt, but intimated that others were involved, saying "I was only the spokesman of others equally guilty".

1915 betting scandal :

A 1915 match between Liverpool and Manchester United aroused suspicions owing to the apparent lack of effort on the part of the Liverpool players. The match finished 2–0 to a relegation-threatened Manchester United. After the match, handbills started to appear, alleging that a large amount of money had been bet at odds of 7/1 on a 2–0 win to United.[7] An investigation by the Football Association was launched and found that players from both sides had been involved in rigging the match: Sandy Turnbull, Arthur Whalley and Enoch West of United, and Jackie Sheldon, Tom Miller, Bob Pursell and Thomas Fairfoul of Liverpool; Sheldon was a former United player himself and was found to be the plot's ringleader. Some players, such as Liverpool's Fred Pagnam and United's George Anderson refused to take part. Pagnam had threatened to score a goal to ruin the result, and indeed late in the match hit the crossbar, causing his teammates to publicly remonstrate with him.[8] He later testified against his team-mates at the FA hearing. At the same hearing, United player Billy Meredith denied any knowledge of the match-fixing, but stated that he became suspicious when none of his teammates would pass the ball to him.

All seven players were banned from playing for life in a decision handed down on 27 December 1915. The FA concluded that it had been a conspiracy by the players alone – no official from either club was found guilty of wrongdoing, and neither club was fined or had points deducted.


The need to fight against match-fixing is a response to perceptions of it as a public interest issue; match-fixing “jeopardises the integrity of the competitions, damages the social, educational and cultural values reflected by sports, and jeopardises the economic role of sports” (UEFA, November 25, 2011). Sports integrity must be protected from fraud in order to avoid doubts concerning the authenticity of results. Without the unpredictability inherent in fair play in sport it becomes unappealing to spectators, broadcasters and sponsors.

Furthermore, match-fixing can be considered a form of corruption and as such must be sanctioned by criminal law (European Commission 2011b). Agreements on the need to fight against anything which alters the unpredictability of outcomes in sport entail questions about the most efficient ways to fight against this phenomenon. Recent cases of sport corruptionshow that this is no minor issue and that it should be combated with appropriate tools such as police expertise, phone-tapping, formal police interviews, prosecutions and trials. Resorting to criminal justice in the fight against match-fixing shows that sporting manipulation can be not only a ‘simple’ breach of sporting rules but also an offence against the public in a broader sense. In the field of doping the use of criminal justice mechanisms has resulted in an active fight against doping. Furthermore the application of an offence, whether general or specific, can facilitate the prosecution of perpetrators who are not members of the sports association concerned; sanctioning through sporting sanctions can only reach those directly involved in sport. Indeed, people who are "behind" match-fixing are commonly linked to organised crime, not the sports world. This raises the question of whether sports organisations are capable of tackling the problem of match-fixing alone (sport autonomy) or whether cooperation with public authorities and legislative intervention are necessary. With regard to cooperation, in some cases the police and public prosecution are already collaborating with sporting bodies and cooperation is not affecting independent sporting sanction systems, which include bans, relegations and penalties.

As suggested above, criminal sanctions and the establishment of a specific criminal offence in national law seem to have been the most effective deterrent to doping. Some commentators argue that this could apply equally to match-fixing. A range of different stakeholders have requested the establishment of a specific legal offence relating to match-fixing. This is the route that some European Member States have already taken (see below sections 3.4-3.6). Also, in Australia a bill was recently introduced to add a provision on fraudulent sports conduct in the Criminal Code - Interactive Gambling and Broadcasting Amendment (Online Transactions and Other Measures) Bill 2011. Similarly, in Russia, it has been announced a proposal allowing the prosecution of match-fixing in the country .

4 essential steps to prevent match -fixing;

 By the international and national football bodies-clearly worded explanations to all clubs as to how and when attempts at match fixing might occur and the requirement that all officials, players and coaching and other staff are appropriately warned as to be vigilant as to any such activity and to institute adequate reporting mechanisms. Those explanations should also spell out the legal and disciplinary consequences should any club or individual become knowingly involved.

 By the clubs themselves to all their employees-again clearly worded warnings about any attempt to fix matches or influence results in any way. These must include a check-list of danger signs such as unexpected phone contacts or face to face meetings involving questions/topics which are unusual or suspicious or jokes or banter about betting on any aspect of the game. The Essex county cricketer apparently became involved because of ‘locker room talk’ about such things.

 A confidential reporting mechanism-quick and easy to use and probably involving anonymity at both club and national level. This is really important. It must be simple to use and some ‘whistleblower’ protection will be necessary to ensure cases are reported. The criminal law protects informants and the football associations can encourage and grant immunity/leniency those with relevant information. Given the stakes for those attempting to fix matches are very high and that at least some of those involved will be serious criminals, individuals ‘in the know’ must be encouraged to pass that information onto the appropriate authorities.The clubs themselves should all have such reporting systems-but if the club itself in implicated there should have to a national helpline administered by the FA or perhaps the leagues

 Finally the FA and the clubs should spell out the legal and professional consequences on participation in match fixing. Legally, anyone involved is bound to have committed the offence of bribery punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years. And we know from recent cases that sportsmen, even at the edge of such activity, are sent to prison. Under FA Rules such activity will certainly amount to misconduct, contrary to the rules banning bribery and betting as well as improper conduct/bringing the game into disrepute. The penalties range from suspension for any period including a life ban and financial penalties for players and officials, to points deductions and bans from competitions for clubs.

 A further thought- given that talented youngsters are coming into the game at quite young ages the topic of match fixing should form part of the general education they receive as they develop their professional careers.

Case study

Arbitration CAS 2016/A/4650 Klubi Sportiv Skenderbeu v. Union Européenne de Football Association (UEFA), award of 21 November 2016 (operative part of 6 July 2016)Panel: Mr Manfred Nan (The Netherlands), President; Prof. Massimo Coccia (Italy); Mr José Juan Pintó (Spain) Football Eligibility of a club involved in match-fixing activities to participate in a UEFA competitionLegal nature of the first-stage process conducted by UEFA in respect of match-fixing standard of proof Reliability of UEFA Betting Fraud Detection System as a means of evidenceInvolvement of the club in match-fixing activitiesLatitude of the decision-making bodies

1. UEFA conducts a two-stage process in respect of match-fixing, i.e. first a possible exclusion from participation in European competitions for one season and, subsequently, a possible disciplinary sanction which may involve a suspension from participating in European competitions for multiple seasons. The first stage is of an administrative nature, as it is aimed not to sanction the club but to protect the values and objectives of UEFA’s competition, its reputation and integrity, not only to prevent a club which has violated such values from taking part in the competitions organized by UEFA (i.e. to protect the integrity of the competition), but to also dispel any shadow of doubt in the public about the integrity, the values and the fair play of its competitions (i.e. to protect the reputation of the competition). One of the pertinent differences between the two stages of the process is that for the first stage it is already sufficient for UEFA to declare a club ineligible to participate in its competitions if it comes to the conclusion that the club has been directly and/or indirectly involved in any activity aimed at arranging or influencing the outcome of a match at national or international level, whereas for the second stage a concrete and specific breach of the regulations is required.

2. It has been consistently upheld in CAS jurisprudence that the standard of proof regarding match-fixing cases is comfortable satisfaction. This standard has been defined as being greater than a mere balance of probability but less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. CAS jurisprudence also clearly established that to reach this comfortable satisfaction, a CAS panel should have in mind the seriousness of the allegation which is made.

3. The role of the UEFA Betting Fraud Detection System (BFDS) is to highlight irregular betting movements, both pre-match and in-game (live), in the core betting markets by monitoring major European and Asian bookmakers. If a match displays irregular betting patterns the match is ‘escalated’ and a report generated. The reports contain atextual analysis and conclusion of the observations made by the specialists as well as graphical representations of movements of the betting market. There are similarities between the procedures followed in respect of the BFDS and the athlete blood passport (the “ABP”) in doping matters. Both rely initially on analytical data which is subsequently interpreted by experts/analysts before conclusions are drawn as to whether a violation is presumed to be committed or not. The BFDS analyses whether the analytical information regarding betting on football matches can be explained by “normal” circumstances. The conclusion that the statistical information cannot be explained by “normal” circumstances does not necessarily entail that it must hence be concluded that the results are to be explained by match-fixing. In order to come to the conclusion that a match is fixed, the analytical information needs to be supported by other, different and external elements pointing in the same direction, i.e. a differentiation must be made between the so-called quantitative information and a qualitative analysis of the quantitative information, which is also needed. Although, the BFDS system could be improved through an ad hoc UEFA regulation, the analytical information derived from it is valuable evidence that, particularly if corroborated by further evidence, can be used in order to conclude that a club was directly or indirectly involved in match-fixing.

4. Based on the wording of article 4.02 of the UEFA Champions League Regulations, no direct culpability of the club is required in order for it to be declared ineligible to participate in the competition. Under such UEFA rule the behaviour of one or more players causes the “indirect involvement” of the club, which is enough to trigger the application of article 4.02.

5. Article 4.02 UCLR does not provide the decision-making bodies with any latitude as to the consequences of failing to comply with this admission criteria; if the club is found to the comfortable satisfaction of the decision-making body to have been directly and/or indirectly involved in match-fixing activities, it will be declared ineligible to participate in the competition and this ineligibility is effective only for one football season.

Bruce Grobbelaar (1994)

Match-fixing has seldom hit the front pages of the British media but one occasion when it did was when Liverpool goalkeeper Grobbelaar was charged along with fellow professionals and Wimbledon players Hans Segers and John Fashanu of match-fixing.

Two successive trials saw the jury fail to come to a conclusive verdict. The players were allowed to continue playing and all three fervently protested their innocence. After further investigation, all three players were cleared of any wrong doing due to a lack of evidence. Fortunately, this incident has not had a long-lasting negative impact on betting within the UK gambling industry. Football is still seen as the sport most popular with punters for betting online, on mobile, and in shop premises across the UK.

Dawn of the “Ghost Game” (2015)

One of the biggest issues for match-fixers to combat is getting players and officials on board to manipulate decisions and the eventual outcome. Over the past few years, match-fixing criminals have realised that there is not necessarily a need to even involved players or officials if you want to fix a game. In fact, you don’t even have to play a game!

In 2015, two Belarusian sides in FC Slutsk and Shakhter Soligorsk were scheduled to play each other. Several bookies took bets on the game. Both club websites reported that the eventual outcome was a 2-1 win for the home side. Rumours soon circulated that the game had never taken place. Shakhter made a claim that their site had been hacked and the scam was eventually traced to a former employee from a data collection agency.

Italian Drink-Spiking Incident (2010)

Unfortunately, Italian football is once again the focus of attention for another match-fixing farce. This time it was a Serie C encounter between Cremonense and Paganese. Early in the game, Cremonense players began to suffer from severe lethargy. Some players were struggling to even walk during the game and one player crashed his car on the way home as he almost fell asleep at the wheel. The Italian FA investigated the game and traced the lethargy of the Cremonense players back to their drinks that had been spiked with tranquilizers by their own goalkeeper Marco Paoloni. After further investigation, it turned out that Paoloni, who was subsequently banned for 5 years, had been paid by notorious match-fixing crook and Singaporean businessman Dan Tan.

Plateau United Feeders and Police Machine Goal Controversy (2013)

If you want to discuss the most blatant examples of match-fixing in modern day football then we need look no further than the extreme case of the Plateau United Feeders and Police Machine goal fest controversy. The incident took place as promotion rivals entered the last day of the Nigerian football season with everything riding on the final matches.At half-time, eyebrows were raised as Plateau United Feeders had stormed into a 7-0 lead against Akurba FC while Police Machine held a 6-0 advantage over Babayaro FC. The unusual turned into the ridiculous in the second half. Feeders went on to win their game 79-0 and the Machine sealed a 67-0 victory. The Nigerian FA suspected foul play and after investigating the matches banned all four teams for 10 years.

Reference :


Expert Group on Match Fixing - European Commission - Europa EU


4650 - Jurisprudence

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