An introduction to the legal aspects of match-fixing in sport

17Aug2016

As illegal gambling has grown so has the awareness by local and international law enforcement agencies of the link between illegal gambling, organized crime and match-fixing and the severity of the match fixing. For instance in 2014 fifteen of the member states of the Council of Europe signed a convention against match-fixing and sport corruption, the “Council of Europe Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions” and Interpol has been managing a Match-fixing Task Force since 2011 to provide training, share information and conduct cross-border investigations.

Match Fixing

An accepted definition of match-fixing put forth by The National Policy on Match-Fixing in Sport, Australian Sports Ministers, (June 2011) is the manipulation of an outcome or contingency by competitors, teams, sports agents, support staff, referees and officials and venue staff,  which includes:

  1. the deliberate fixing of the result of a contest, or of an occurrence within the contest, or of a points spread;
  2. deliberate under performance;
  3. withdrawal from the event (tanking);
  4. an official’s deliberate misapplication of the rules of the contest;
  5. interference with the play or playing surfaces by venue staff; and
  6. 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.
Types of Match-Fixing and Examples

Whilst match-fixing is commonly understood as the manipulation of the outcome of the match, it includes “spot-fixing” to determine the outcome of a specific part of a match or game before it is played. In 2010 a former Nigerian National and Portsmouth football player told an undercover reporter that he could arrange yellow and red cards in exchange for cash and that he had received £70,000 in exchange for getting himself booked and sent off .

Parties involved in match-fixing

Whilst match fixing is most often associated with players, cases have shown that anyone who has a role to play in sports such as referees, coaches, club managers and maintenance staff at all levels can be involved. For instance in 2010 a security guard and members of a Malaysian betting syndicate were charged for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance after being caught installing a remote control device to disable floodlights in the Charlton Athletic Football club home stadium ahead of a match against Liverpool FC .

In what is now known as the 2006 ‘Calciopoli’ scandal, Serie A champion Juventus was penalized by points deduction and relegation (for the first time in the club’s history) after investigations by Italian prosecutors revealed that Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi had colluded with various sectors of the industry. It was reported that Moggi influenced the head of the Italian referees association so that referees favourable to Juventus officiated the club’s matches and the number of red and yellow cards given to players in rival teams  was predetermined by Moggi. Moggi also influenced football punters on TV to minimize the perception of preferential treatment of Juventus by referees. Other Serie A teams  such as A.C. Milan, Napoli, Florentina, and Lazio were later penalized as a result of the investigations.

Whilst many match fixing cases stem from a desire to derive financial benefit, it can also be motivated by strategic gain. For instance four seeded Olympic mixed double badminton teams were disqualified for throwing round robin matches in the 2012 London Olympics when jockeying for better draws in the elimination rounds.

Match Fixing and Football

A 2016 briefing report prepared for the European Union parliament (“EU Parliament Report”)  suggests that certain sports are particularly prone to match fixing such as cricket, football and tennis but this does not mean that other sports are immune. Football appears to be the hardest hit, due to the interest and volume of money which is bet on football matches. Statistics from Interpol suggest that hundreds of billions of US dollars are generated in the sports gambling industry of which 90% comes from football betting. The EU Parliament Report also notes that in a 2011 review of more than 2000 cases during a decade, 53% to 70% of the cases concerned football. It was reported in 2012 that at least 50 nations were subject to football match fixing investigations i.e. nearly 25% of FIFA’s 209 members.

Match-Fixing in Hong Kong

Although domestic football has largely been relegated to the sidelines in Hong Kong with little revenue and the average number of fans attending top flight games hovering just above 1,000 per match, the region has also been hit by match-fixing scandals in recent years. In December 2013 former Tuen Mun defender Li Ming was accused of match-fixing when he headed the ball into his own team’s net during a match with Yokohama FC. Li Ming’s contract was terminated and he returned to the Mainland, making investigation difficult.

In January 2014 several players in the first division team Happy Valley were taken away by the ICAC to assist investigation in a match-fixing probe. The probe eventually resulted in criminal convictions for a player and an assistant coach; Happy Valley were suspended for bringing the sport into disrepute although the Hong Kong Football Association (“HKFA”) insisted this was due to the team’s finances and governance and not directly associated with the probe. More recently in April 2016 Hong Kong cricketer Irfan Ahmed was banned for 30 months for failing to report approaches to fix matches.

Disciplinary Consequences

Match fixing is a misconduct and will have disciplinary consequences for players and other staff involved in regulated leagues in Hong Kong punishable by fine or suspension. The Hong Kong Rugby Union’s Code of Conduct for Players, Coaches, Referees and Administrators:

  1. prohibits betting on any aspect of a Rugby Football match or competition;
  2. prohibits throwing or fixing a match or ‘otherwise influencing improperly the outcome or any other aspect of a match or competition’;
  3. prohibits  seeking or accepting of bribes or benefits; and
  4. prescribes a duty to immediately report on the above.

The HKFA Code of Ethics (2015 Edition)  for football players, teams, officials, coaches, associations and members of the association and the code of conduct for HKFA staff and officials respectively have similar specific prohibitions  and positive duties to report such misconduct.

Criminal Consequences

Match fixing is not a standalone offence in England or Hong Kong. However depending on the facts the conduct involved may possibly fall into these existing criminal offences:

  1. cheating at gambling under s.16 (1)(a) of the Gambling Ordinance (Cap. 148);
  2. conspiracy to defraud; and
  3. money laundering under s.25(1) of the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance (Cap.455).

Cheating at Gambling

The key elements for the offence of cheating at gambling under s.16(1)(a) of the Gambling Ordinance is that the person acts by ‘fraud, misleading device or false practice, before or after or in the course of or in connection  with gambling or a lottery, wins from another person, for himself or for any other person ascertained or unascertained, any money or other property’.

Conspiracy to Defraud under the common law

In 2014, former Happy Valley footballer Sasa Mus was convicted on one charge of conspiracy to defraud his club Happy Valley and the HKFA when he was found to have accepted HK$20,000 in cash by the team’s sponsor in return for playing below his usual level. The prosecution relied on a video recording of the match, evidence from coaches recounting a sudden drastic decline in Mus’ performance to convict him. Mus was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. The maximum penalty for conspiracy to defraud is imprisonment for 14 years.

Teammate and assistant coach Fan Weijun, who introduced the sponsor to Happy Valley, was acquitted for one count of incitement to commit conspiracy in  respect of another match where he was alleged to have incited the team’s goal keeper to concede goals. Fan was acquitted to inadequate evidence, the magistrate accepting that Fan’s words could have been considered as motivational . As a result of ICAC’s investigations into Happy Valley, a former deputy manager was convicted under s.8 of the Gambling Ordinance for illegal betting when it was discovered that he made illegal bets on matches played by the team.

Money Laundering Offence

In HKSAR v Lok Kar Win & Others [1999] 3 HKLRD L6 the Court of Final Appeal rejected the applicant’s appeal and upheld the magistrates conviction of the applicants for charges under s.25(1) of the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance (Cap.455) (“OSCO”)  for dealing with property known or having reasonable grounds to believe was in whole or in part directly or indirectly the proceeds of an indictable offence. The maximum penalty is 14 years imprisonment and a fine of up to HK$5 million.

The applicants were professional footballers who conspired to fix a match so that Hong Kong would lose by 2-0 to Thailand in a World Cup qualifying match. The players received HK$30,000 for their role in the match fixing. The match took place in Thailand yet s.25(1) OSCO caught the particular mischief ‘criminalizing dealing in Hong Kong with property [i.e. the HK$30,000 winnings] derived from conduct which is indictable here, regardless of where that conduct occurred [i.e. the match fixing which took place in Thailand]’. The fact that the players represented Hong Kong was treated as an aggravating factor by the Magistrate.

The Way Forward?

The HKFA has hired a sports fraud-monitoring consultancy firm to monitor Hong Kong Premier League matches from 2014 to 2017 for extraordinary betting pattern in an attempt to detect match-fixing.  This firm also acts for the English Premier League, the Bundesliga (the top German Football league) and FIFA regional organisations like UEFA and CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football).

Whilst it remains to be seen whether more match fixing cases will be detected in coming years it’s clear that match fixing can have devastating criminal and professional consequences on the participants as well as bring the sport into disrepute.

Tanner De Witt is a proud sponsor and supporter of a range of sports in Hong Kong; this includes the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, the ESF Lions Youth Football Team and various boxing and golfing events. The lawyers at Tanner De Witt are well versed in the concerns of both sports administrators and regulators on one hand and those of the players and staff on the other. For more information on criminal offences and sports disciplinary issues please contact Partner Kim Boreham and Consultant Philip Swainston.

Kim Boreham
Partner | Email

Philip Swainston
Consultant | Email

See also: An introduction to the legal aspects of illegal betting (Article published 17 August 2016)

Disclaimer: This publication is general in nature and is not intended to constitute legal advice. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.