The President of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has said it is “killing the game”. The International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS) has described it as a cancer threatening sport worldwide. Investigators have warned that European sport could end up as “a graveyard” if it is not dealt with. The scourge of match-fixing comes under the microscope as the EU’s Sports Ministers and representatives of European institutions and the sports movement meet in Lefkosia (Nicosia) this week.
Match-fixing constitutes the ultimate and most direct threat to the ethics and integrity of sport. Defined as the ‘manipulation of sports result which covers the arrangement on an irregular alteration of the course or the result of a sporting competition or any of its particular events in order to obtain financial or other advantage, for oneself or for other, and remove all or part of the uncertainty normally associated with the results of a competition’, match-fixing is linked to broader criminal activity such as corruption, fraud and money laundering.
“Incidents of match-fixing shake and corrode the trust that the public have in sport, as they are inclined to view it as a corrupt world, where a small number of individuals have considerable financial gains from fixing matches,” says Pambos Stylianou, Chairman of the Cyprus Sport Association.
When it comes to actually identifying the extent of match-fixing within sport, there is a clear obstacle. The problem lies in the fact that screening systems are unable to detect the various types of irregular betting activity associated with match-fixing. Therefore the lack of data makes it impossible to put a figure on how many sporting fixtures each year are affected.
Existing records indicate that it is only a fraction, however it is strongly believed that match-fixing in sport is much more widespread than the data of convicted cases suggest. With the advent of online betting in the last few years, the scope for illegal activity is thought to be greater than it ever has been.
An intricate and organised network of corruption
“There is a real concern about the involvement of organised crime in the manipulation of results, as well as the development of online betting on games over the last few years which increases the risks associated with sport,” Mr. Stylianou adds.
The details that emerged from the recent ‘Bochum’ scandal into European football in 2009 shed some light on the cross border, highly sophisticated and organised nature of modern match-fixing. Of the nearly 350 individuals involved, almost half were living in Germany – while the others came from Turkey, Switzerland, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. During the inquest, accounts and money transfer were detected in a host of countries, from Europe to Southeast Asia.
In March this year, a European Commission report, conducted by the KEA European Affairs consultancy, mapping out the national legal frameworks for combating sporting fraud in Member States was published. The study looked at how corruption in sport, specifically match-fixing, is covered in national criminal law. It provides recommendations on areas where there was a need for improvement, such as overcoming loopholes in national legislation, improving cooperation between the police and judiciary, as well as intensifying the exchange of information and best practices.
“A battle we cannot afford to lose”
For Mr. Stylianou, the evidence points to the need for a concerted response from the entire global and in particular European sport movement.
“The fight against influencing and fixing sports matches and for the integrity of sport is a must-win for the entire globe; and one for which the European sports society should be at the forefront,” he says.
According to the Chairman of the Cyprus Sport Association, numerous conferences and meetings of EU Sports ministers and other stakeholders have indicated that a coordinated approach involving the entire sporting foundation and authorities is the only solution.
This has also been identified by the Council of Europe, which has begun work towards drafting a convention on match-fixing, while the European Parliament is expected to issue the first draft of its interim report on match-fixing in October.
Since the Lisbon treaty in 2009, the European Union has a formal competence on sport, in supporting, coordinating and complementing sport policy measures taken by Member States. The supporting competence that the EU has acquired in the field of sport reflects the growing importance of sport as social phenomenon that has both social and economic dimensions.
According to the European Commissioner responsible for Sport Mrs. Androulla Vassiliou, the EU is now therefore in a position to provide significant input on issues such as match-fixing, especially in terms of deterrence.
EU can “play an instrumental role”
“There is also a lot that can be done in terms of prevention. I am thinking, in particular, of educational programmes and awareness-raising campaigns. These are essential in reaching those most at risk of being approached to fix matches: players, referees and match officials. Here, the EU dimension in sport becomes vital, because the EU can play an instrumental role in coordinating and financing such programmes and campaigns,” she said at a European Parliament Conference in June.
On Thursday, September 20, these as well as other recommendations on how to combat match fixing will form the crux of the debate as the EU’s Sports Ministers hold a joint session with the representatives of European Institutions and the sports movement taking part in the EU Sports Forum.