Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fixing Match Fixing Won't be Easy

By now you've no doubt heard of the big Interpol announcement of a major investigation into match fixing in European football. The New York Times reports:
[A] European police intelligence agency said Monday that its 19-month investigation, code-named Operation Veto, revealed widespread occurrences of match-fixing in recent years, with 680 games globally deemed suspicious. The extent was staggering: some 150 international matches, mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America; roughly 380 games in Europe, covering World Cup and European championship qualifiers as well as two Champions League games; and games that run the gamut from lower-division semiprofessional matches to contests in top domestic leagues.
Writing at his blog, Declan Hill, author of The Fix (which I enjoyed a great deal), writes:
 Anyone who tells you that match-fixing is complicated to solve is either ignorant or lying.
I'm not sure what category Declan will put me in, but you can put me in the camp who says that match fixing presents a problem that is incredibly complicated to solve. In fact "solving" match fixing may be the wrong way to think about it -- in all likelihood it can only be contained.

Hill lays out his argument for the simplicity of dealing with match fixing as follows:
It is very, very simple.
Let us take out ‘football’ for the moment and imagine that we are speaking about bank robberies.

There is a gang that is going around the world and robbing banks.  They have stolen money from at least 680 banks in over-20 different countries.

We know the name of the alleged leader of the gang.

We know the address of the alleged leader of the gang.

We know his birth date and his phone number.

Police forces in some of those countries have collected hundreds of pages of evidence against him.

The police forces have gone to the country where he lives with an international arrest warrant and asked the government of that country to arrest him.

His national government has refused to arrest him.

They have come up with a variety of responses, ‘not enough evidence’, ‘warrant not valid’, ‘we are helping [but not enough to make any arrests]’, etc…  But basically, they are refusing to act.

It is that simple.
What Hill has overlooked is international law. Match fixing is handled very differently in countries around the world -- in some countries it is not recognized as a crime (e.g., Japan and through at least last fall in Russia). In most countries it is a crime only insofar as it is related to illegal gambling or fraud.

Even in Europe, a detailed review of the laws in place across the continent prepared for the European Commission found that international conventions at the global or European level do not provide a legal framework for the criminalization of match fixing. The report states (here in PDF):
As far as the international and European framework is concerned, international conventions on corruption do not impose the criminalisation of acts related to the manipulation of sport results. The most relevant provisions in the United Nations and Council of Europe conventions – those on private corruption - are not mandatory, thus they do not create a direct obligation for signatory parties. In the EU, the manipulation of sports results, in principle falls under the scope of the Framework Decision on Private Corruption. However, the extent to which this applies to all kinds of betting motivated cases, in particular as far as non professional sports are concerned is not clear.
Within Europe the review found a "lack of a coherent and comparable legal basis between Member States" which creates obstacles to enforcement, cooperation and sanctions. Further, match fixing is in an embryonic legal state:
Examples of criminal jurisprudence in relation to the manipulation of sport results are rare. We identified relevant decisions in only nine countries: the Czech Republic, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Malta and the UK. Nevertheless, there are ongoing investigations in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and the UK.
Consider one complicated aspect of dealing with match fixing, which would even apply to Hill's bank robber -- extradition. In the case of a match fixer ensconced in, say, Singapore who has fixed matches in several countries in Europe. Calling him to account through existing legal frameworks is difficult to say the least.
Consider that the fixer may not have violated any domestic laws. Think Roman Polanski. Further, the domestic government may or may not have established an extradition treaty with the countries where he may have violated their laws. When nations invoke extradition it brings it the possibility of big-time international politics. Even more -- there are lots of procedural questions, like, which country gets him, anyway? Such questions go on and on.

A 2003 law review by Christopher Joyner looked at challenges extradition in the context of post 9/11 terrorism. You can be sure that if extradition is complex and difficult in the case of international terrorism, then it will also be in international sports offenses. Joyner explains (here in PDF):
Under contemporary international law, no universal rule obligates governments to extradite, or even prosecute, alleged offenders who hide in their territory. Indeed, the international extradition process today operates almost entirely through bilateral treaties, and certain conditions such as the nationality of the offender, concern over the fairness of a foreign trial, or the supposed political nature of the offense can obstruct the extradition process. Moreover, the international extradition system is neither comprehensive nor complete. No state has extradition treaties with every other state...  The United States, for example, has extradition treaties with approximately 100 states, although today there are at least a total of 193 states in the international community. 
As an example, the image below shows the countries with with the UK has extradition treaties. You'll note the large swaths of grey representing countries with which the UK has no extradition treaty. There are plenty of places around the world for a would-be English football fixer to set up shop without much worry about being extradited to the UK.

To contain match fixing requires breaking new ground in both sports governance and international law.

Simple? Hardly.

To its credit, FIFA appears to fully understand these complexities. Sepp Blatter and FIFA’s Director of Security Ralf Mutschke explained:
"In football, a national association can sanction a member of the football family if they are found guilty of contravening the legal, football framework,” [Mutschke] continued. “FIFA’s Disciplinary Code provides the opportunity to extend those sanctions, and impose a life ban.

“But for people outside of football, currently the custodial sentences imposed are too weak, and offer little to deter someone from getting involved in match-fixing.

"FIFA requests that law enforcement bodies continue their engagement, and continue to assist FIFA in the global fight against match-manipulation and organised criminals, even if the investigations are considered complex."

In recent interviews, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter echoed Mutschke’s sentiments, saying: “We are working here together with the political authorities and also with INTERPOL. What is necessary is solidarity within the football community. Then, when players, coaches and referees are touched by these people they should immediately disclose it, acting as whistle-blowers. Only then can we intervene effectively.

“Outside the football family, it is also time for governments to take the threat of match-fixing seriously and introduce appropriate sanctions as a deterrent, for while a player may be prepared to rish a ban for throwing a match, he will most likely not wish to risk a prison sentence.

“We must lobby governments to introduce legislation of this kind, both nationally and across borders where possible, through countries reaching a common position on this problem.”
What then can be done? The good news is that there are some steps that can be taken to make progress on containing match fixing. This is a subject I'll return to in coming discussions.


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