Back Second meeting of the Network of Magistrates/Prosecutors responsible for Sports (MARS), in the framework of the Rugby World Cup 2023

Paris 18 September 2023
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Prosecutor General of Paris, thank you for that kind introduction.

Minister of Justice,

Minister of Sports and Olympic and Paralympic Games,

Distinguished participants,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

 

I begin by thanking the French government for its firm and steadfast support in our shared mission to ensure integrity in sport.

Recent examples include the country’s ratification of our Macolin Convention on the Manipulation on Sports Competitions –

And the positive roles played by both the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Sport in supporting the work to set up MARS, this unique Network of Magistrates and Prosecutors Responsible for Sports –

As well as for hosting its second annual meeting here today in Paris.

This is of course very timely.

Not only is France currently hosting the Rugby World Cup.

But, less than a year from now, this beautiful and historic city will stage the Summer Olympic Games – along with the Paralympic Games – for the third time.

Events that are widely seen as the pinnacle of global sports.

But for people to invest their energy and hopes and belief in those Games –

They need to know that the competition is fair, open and honest.

That every victory is well earned –

And that every competitor is treated equally and fairly.

This is true of all sports.

Integrity does matter –

And I believe this Network could be central to ensuring it.

Dear friends,

As you know, the Council of Europe has for years sought to promote integrity in sports –

And we have expanded and adapted our measures over the years and in line with the times.

Following the rise of illicit drug use in sport, we adopted our anti-doping convention –

The first international legal instrument of its kind.

After the Heysel Stadium Disaster in Belgium in 1985, we adopted our Convention on combatting Spectator Violence –

And thereafter the Saint Denis Convention on an Integrated Safety, Security and Service Approach at Football Matches and Other Sports Events.

And in light of the rising number of match-fixing scandals, and changes in the sports-betting markets, including online –

Governments came together and adopted the Council of Europe’s Macolin Convention.

On top of this, we have highly relevant judgments from the European Court of Human Rights, that are obligatory for European States to implement –

We have also the work of GRECO, our anti-corruption monitoring body –

And our intergovernmental Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sports, EPAS, which is proactive in coordinating sports policies among our member states.

EPAS acts in many ways as the guardian of the European Sports Charter, whose Article 8 is explicit in championing integrity, at both the individual and Organizational levels, and in sports competitions –

And which has now developed a draft Declaration on Sport Integrity, which we expect that all our 46 governments will adopt later this month.

That Declaration will be important – and it will urge member states to take a comprehensive range of practical steps including:

New laws, regulation, guidelines and codes of conduct –

Education programmes and campaigns targeting athletes, coaches and others to raise awareness of the risks and consequences of unethical behaviour –

And help us develop enhanced cooperation to combat cross-border crime linked to sport.

Closely related to this, it also supports a strengthening of MARS to promote the collection, management and exchange of information, intelligence and good practices.

The role of MARS will be now doubt important, as we know that these kinds of offences are always a real risk where stakes are high, and money is in ready supply.

Tackling these offences – and therefore deterring them – often requires magistrates and prosecutors’ expertise.

Take, for example, the case where 28 people were found guilty earlier this summer of fixing tennis matches in Belgium and France –

A staggering 376 matches over four years –

And about which I understand that the Belgian Federal magistrate Ann Lukowiak will speak later today.

With the support of EPAS, the MARS network is growing in size and strength –

Bringing together professional prosecutors and magistrates from across member states –

Observers from non-member states –

As well as institutional observers, including Interpol, Europol and Eurojust.

This is creating an ever-wider, ever more informed forum in which Network members exchange knowledge, share expertise and build trust between one another.

This will hopefully lead to an increase in the number of investigations at the national level –

And at the international level too.

I believe, we all understand that cross-border dimension of criminal threats to sport integrity is indeed complex –

Where jurisdictions can be unclear –

Information incomplete or withheld –

And roles unclear or lacking definition.

But integrity withers where uncertainty is allowed to take root – and where it could lead to no action.

And that is precisely why we need you to take on the challenge.

Work with one another –

Bring in all of those concerned together.

From national and international actors, to sports and organisations –

To academics, specialists and journalists.

To help us clarify roles, responsibilities and protocols.

And prepare the ground for more investigations, integrity and justice in sports throughout Europe and beyond.

Dear friends,

MARS was initiated thanks to the work of the visionary Belgian prosecutor, Eric Bisschop.

He was passionate about sport – and dedicated to justice.

Some of you had the privilege of knowing him personally.

Sadly, he died earlier this year –

Denied the opportunity to witness the importance and progress of this work.

But he knew that together, we have what it takes to raise the standard of integrity in sports for the benefit of us all.

 

I thank you you for your attention.