Can we fix it? Corruption in football.

19/12/2013  -  11.50

Professor Graham Brooks, senior lecturer in Law

Can we fix it? Corruption in football.

The recent case of match fixing in football is nothing new. There have been a number of cases throughout the years in British football but few to mention. The problem is really spot fixing. This is a problem for all sport not only football.  We blame wayward individuals and/or ‘foreign’ organised criminal elements or the gambling industry.

However, some of this is misleading.  Individuals can fix a match but would have to be a referee such as Robert Hoyzer in the Bundesliga, but generally a few players on one or each side are needed to fix a specified result. A goalkeeper, forward or defender(s) simply need a ‘bad day at the office’ to secure such a result.  Whilst ‘foreign’ elements (see recent Interpol case) are known to engage in match fixing it is dangerous of the British football leagues to dismiss this as a ‘foreign’ problem or an isolated case as football is an international sport. Finally, the regulated gambling industry in the United Kingdom is, if anything, part of the solution rather than the problem. Traditional bookmakers (i.e., William Hills) Betting Exchanges (i.e., Betfair) have Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with the relevant sporting bodies and pass on information if they detect or suspect a suspicious betting activity. They are then at the ‘coalface’ able and willing to detect suspicious betting before, during and after matches. It is easy to blame the gambling industry but organised crime has no need for the regulated sector when it will use the hidden, unregulated sector in jurisdictions where gambling is banned. Therefore, what the regulated gambling sector can do is limited if substantial sums of money are staked illegally. It has been estimated that this illegal sector is worth approximately £200 billion but there is no way of really measuring this.

This is further compounded with sport fixing. A football player is booked, a snooker player losing a frame, cricket balls bowled to order (see Lords test match between England and Pakistan 2010), a tennis player loses a set etc. As above, banning gambling will not resolve the problem of these ‘exotic bets’ as they are on offer in jurisdictions where gambling is illegal.    

Instead, if anything it is the sporting bodies that are in need of upping the stakes. Sporting bodies, regardless of the sport, are not policing bodies. They have little or no power to discipline a wayward sports-star beyond banning them from playing the sport. Sporting bodies deal then with codes of conduct rather than criminal offences and as such the police are required to take on this responsibility.  However, is some cases the sport might encourage corruption. For example, many sports in the USA have a draft pick. The team with the worse record picks the upcoming best players the following year. In Basketball a team with a poor record but not the worse might start to lose matches (known as tanking) to hopefully secure the chance of picking the following years’ best player(s). 

Fraud and corruption in sport is impossible to stop but it is the sporting bodies that need to employ counter fraud specialists and forensic accounts and prevent, as best they can, rather than moral condemnation after the event.  The solution is difficult and international in nature. A starting point thought is that if a sports-star is convicted they should be banned from having any position in the sport. After all would you want a football player convicted of match fixing to become a coach?             

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