Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How Match Fixing is Defined in European Institutions

One of the challenges in dealing with match fixing is that the concept is not precisely defined. As a matter of jurisprudence, match fixing necessarily must be defined precisely if it is to be governed. A standard of "I know it when I see it" (PDF) may work for obscenity laws in the United States, but cannot work for match fixing. 

To better understand how match fixing is presently definined in Europe I emailed several officials in the European Commission who are looking at this subject and here is what they reported back to me. (I appreciate their quick and substantive replies!)
The EU institutions do not precisely define 'match-fixing'. In its Communication 'Developing the European Dimension in Sport', adopted in January 2011 (http://ec.europa.eu/sport/news/communication-on-sport-adopted_en.htm), the Commission states the following:
'Match-fixing violates the ethics and integrity of sport. Whether related to influencing betting or to sporting objectives, it is a form of corruption and as such sanctioned by national criminal law. International criminal networks play a role in match-fixing associated with illicit betting. Due to the worldwide popularity of sport and the trans-frontier nature of betting activities, the problem often goes beyond the remit of national authorities. Sport stakeholders have been working with public and private betting companies to develop early warning systems and educational programmes, with mixed results. The Commission will cooperate with the Council of Europe in analysing the factors that could contribute to more effectively addressing the issue of match-fixing at national, European and international level. Integrity in sport is also one of the issues that will be addressed in the forthcoming Commission consultation on the provision of online gambling services in the EU.'
More broadly:
At European level, a definition of match-fixing has been agreed by the Council of Europe in its Recommendation on the promotion of the integrity of sport against manipulation of results, notably match-fixing (http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/epas/resources/texts/CM_Rec_2011_10_en.pdf), which includes the following definition:
'The expression “manipulation of sports results” covers the arrangement of an irregular alteration of the course or the result of a sporting competition or any of its particular events (such as matches, races) in order to obtain an advantage for oneself or for others and to remove all or part of the uncertainty normally associated with the results of a competition.'
As you may know, the Council of Europe will soon launch the negotiations for a possible Convention against the manipulation of sports results. The question of defining what match-fixing is will undoubtedly be central in the framework of these negotiations. 
I have a few thoughts in response:

1.  If the EU is to move forward on a harmonized approach to match fixing, it is going to have to define what is meant by "match fixing." As we'll see, developing a definition that leads to effective governance is no simple task.

2. The definition offered by Council of Europe has the advantage of seeking to define what is meant by "match fixing" but it is problematic in several respects.

First, the notion of "irregular alteration" simply replaces "match fixing" with another imprecise and undefined concept. For example, is the purposeful losing of a match to gain a better seed in a two-stage tournament (group/knockout) an "irregular alteration"? Does, for instance, one set of rules apply to badminton and another to football? The notion of "irregular alteration" forces a discussion of player/coach/referee intent/motives and ventures into territory that would be difficult if not impossible to regulate.

Second, and perhaps more problematic, is the notion of "uncertainty normally associated with the results of a competition." Academic literature suggests that uncertainty in results has been overplayed as an important factor in policy making (see Szymanski 2003), as the evidence is equivocal as to how much fans actually value uncertainty. Of course, if it is indeed uncertainty that really matters, then the simplest response would be to not investigate match fixing, and leave it as just another unknown variable affecting sporting outcomes. Surely, what matters to fans is their subjective uncertainty about the outcome, not objective uncertainty. In the end a metaphysical discussion of the ontological status of uncertainty in sporting events probably is not the direction to go to better govern match fixing.

The CoE definition thus restates the problem in different language and invokes a value (preservation of uncertainty) that is of dubious stature in competition.  The governance of match fixing will require some further consideration of what exactly it is that is problematic about match fixing, and the practical steps that might be taken to regulate it. This is no easy task.


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