The Macolin Convention offers a definition of the manipulation of sports competitions which has become since 2014 the most widely used at the international level:
Manipulation of sport competitions means an intentional arrangement, act or omission aimed at an improper alteration of the result or the course of a sport competition in order to remove all or part of the unpredictable nature of the aforementioned sport competition with a view to obtaining an undue advantage for oneself or for others.
The above definition of “match-fixing” covers a wide range of situations:
- The deliberate loss of a match or a phase of a match;
- The deliberate underperformance by a competitor or improper withdrawal before the conclusion of a match (tanking);
- The fixing of specific elements of a sporting event (spot-fixing);
- The deliberate misapplication of the rules of a sport by the referee and/or other match officials;
- Interference with the play, playing surfaces or equipment.
Match-fixing basically takes two main forms:
- Sporting-motivated form, involving athletes for personal greed, or simply because they need to get sufficient incomes in order to stay in the game or involving for example a coach aiming to assure the financial survival of his club or its progression in a tournament.
- Betting-related form, involving persons off the field, including also when using “inside information”, to make financial gains through sports betting platforms.
“Match-fixing” violates the internal rules, regulations and codes of conduct of sports federations. It can also ruin athletes’ careers. Furthermore, “match-fixing threatens the principle of integrity, integrity of sports and integrity in sports. The wide scale exploitation of “match-fixing” by organized criminals who take advantage of technology giving easy access to betting markets has transformed the phenomenon into a major tool for corruption.
Sports organizations (e.g. IOC or FIFA) have taken steps and have developed governance structures and procedures in order to fight match-fixing to this end. Indeed, athletes take today enormous risks when they manipulate competitions considering that they are subject to disciplinary measures, which could range from penalties, to relegation and even life-ban. The reality is that investigation capacities of sports organisations are still limited, as are the sanctions they are able to take against fixers.
For criminals who are elaborating complex international schemes for fixing competitions, the risk of seeing investigations carried out is even more limited, and existing weak criminal sanctions are not deterrent. A number of law enforcement agencies and international organizations (e.g. UNODC, INTERPOL or Europol) have also taken initiatives, however the reality here again is that the severity of the threat posed by match-fixing is still not sufficiently well understood and existing criminal laws are inadequate in many countries.
The phenomenon has now taken worldwide proportions. That means that the direct involvement of public authorities in order to coordinate the relevant justice response is the only way to efficiently fight against the phenomenon, in parallel with independent sports sanctioning systems.
Of course, there already are powerful international legal foundations and frameworks helping States to fight corruption1, but the Council of Europe’s Macolin Convention is the only legally binding instrument worldwide which identifies “match-fixing” as a specific crime. The Convention states that this manipulation is illegal and constitutes a criminal offence; those perpetrating match-fixing have therefore to be considered as criminals.
The ratification of this text and the implementation of the measures preconized regarding passing laws, putting in place relevant procedures for preventing, detecting and sanctioning, promoting cooperation between stakeholders and between States, etc. are the best way to sustain the fight against match-fixing.
1 Namely the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (2000), the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (2002), the United Nations Convention against Corruption (2003), and the Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism (2008).