In February 2023, the Bangladesh Cricket Board revealed that one of the members of its women’s team at the Twenty20 World Cup had been approached to fix a contingency event within one of its matches. An example of a contingency in cricket is bowling “no bowls” at specific times during a match. Fortunately, the player reported the approach to the International Cricket Council. However, the fact is that approaches like this may well be financially enticing to an athlete and if they take an offer, it would result in the corruption of sport.
Corruption is an ever-present threat to the viability and integrity of sports, and one such method which sports organisations will often be confronted with is match-fixing. An instance of match-fixing could cause the undermining of public trust, confidence, and enjoyment in sport. This is because match-fixing undermines the very nature of sport – that it is a fair, genuine, and honest contest between competitors who are doing their best to win the contest. Without the authenticity of the contest, sport is rendered fake, shallow, and spiritless. It is unenjoyable to play, unfair on other competitors and unenjoyable to viewers of sport. It can also affect the commercial viability of sport due to the fact the people would be less likely to want to bet on a sport if its results are fixed.
This article explains what match-fixing is and provides guidance to sports organisations responding to any allegations of match-fixing made against their athletes.
What is match-fixing?
Match-fixing refers to the manipulation of a sports result or contingency by relevant sports personnel. Such relevant sports personnel include the competing athletes or teams, coaches and support staff, agents, adjudicators, umpires, referees, and sports officials.
Many types of behaviours may be considered match-fixing. These include, but are not limited to:
- deliberately performing, or conspiring to perform, in a certain matter to fix a result of a sports event or a contingency (for example, allowing a competing team to score the first goal in a football match) within that sports event;
- deliberately withdrawing from a sports event or underperforming;
- an umpire or referee deliberately misapplying the rules of the sport to influence a result;
- an adjudicator or judge of an event deliberately scoring or adjudicating a sports event in a pre-determined manner in order to cause a certain result; and
- improper use of insider information (for example. using insider information to place a bet or advising others to bet based on the insider information).
Athletes are often tempted to match-fix due to a personal interest of some sort; usually this will be monetary. Lower-level or lower-paid athletes are more likely to be persuaded to match-fix. This is because they are likely to not be compensated well, if at all, and are often playing in less well-resourced competitions, and are thus less likely to be caught if they do match-fix. This makes gaining a profit from match-fixing more enticing. A lower-level or lower-paid athlete may be persuaded to match-fix by a criminal enterprise as doing so would lead to a high financial reward which may outweigh any prize or recognition, they would gain by genuinely competing in a competition. For example, a tennis player ranked outside of the top 200 players may be tempted by a criminal syndicate (for example, a group of people who have made bets on a match) to lose a match because the criminal syndicate would gain money from the tennis player’s loss and the tennis player would be provided a share of the criminal syndicate’s profit. In 2013, Victorian detectives caught out a number of professional soccer players playing in second-tier leagues who were caught up with an international betting syndicate.
However, match-fixing has also occurred at the elite level. A prominent example of match-fixing at an elite level is the case of Ryan Tandy. Ryan Tandy played in the National Rugby League for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. He conspired to manipulate the first score of a 2010 match between his club and the North Queensland Cowboys. Tandy committed two rule violations close to the Cowboys’ goal at the beginning of the match, which would have boosted the chance of the first score of the match being a Cowboys penalty goal. It was later discovered that many of Tandy’s family and friends had placed bets on the first score of the match to be a Cowboys penalty goal. Tandy was subsequently found guilty of trying to manipulate the first score of the match.
Other than match-fixing out of a motivation to gain money, an athlete or club may do so as they seek to gain some other benefit by fixing a result. An example of this is an AFL Club deliberately losing a match (a practice also known as tanking) in order to gain a higher draft selection in the National Draft, which would allow the Club priority access to the best new young talent for Australian rules football in the country.
These examples demonstrate why there is a need to tackle match-fixing to ensure the longevity and integrity of sport across all levels.
What underpins Australia’s approach to match-fixing?
In 2011, every state and territory in Australia adopted the National Policy on Match-Fixing in Sport. This policy provided a framework for how the country (and each state and territory) would coordinate its response to match-fixing. Part of the policy was for the government to make laws prohibiting match-fixing.
Additionally, the Federal Government signed the Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions (Macolin Convention) in 2019. Among the duties of the state in the Macolin Convention are:
- a duty to coordinate policies associated with the fight against the manipulation of sports competitions;
- a duty to ensure that its domestic laws enable it to criminally sanction manipulation of sports competitions when the manipulation involves coercive, corrupt, or fraudulent practices; and
- a duty to ensure that criminal sanctions are implemented against both natural persons and corporate bodies.
Sport Integrity Australia is assisting the Federal Government to ratify the Macolin Convention into legislation. It is responsible for working with governments, sports, regulators, wagering service providers and law enforcement agencies, to provide a coordinated response to match-fixing.
How does the law respond to match-fixing?
All states and territories have implemented laws which render various forms of match-fixing a criminal offence. In Victoria, there are various laws under the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) (see ss 195B to 195F) prohibiting activity which may constitute match-fixing, including knowingly or recklessly:
- engaging in conduct that corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of an event or event contingency;
- facilitating conduct that corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of an event or event contingency, or entering into an agreement or arrangement that has that effect;
- concealing conduct, an agreement or an arrangement that corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of an event or event contingency; and
- use of corrupt conduct information for betting purposes.
These offences carry a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. In relation to all of these offences, there must be an intention to obtain a financial advantage or cause a financial disadvantage in connection with a betting event or the event contingency.
It will also be an offence to possess information about corrupt conduct and then knowingly or recklessly use that information to bet on an event or event contingency, encourage another person to do so, or communicate the information to someone that they ought reasonably to know would be likely to use the information to bet on an event or event contingency.
A recent example which enlivened some of these provisions involved two Victorian men who participated in an e-sports competition. One of the two men was a team member of an e-sports group competing in a competition for the first-person shooter game, Valorant. He was friends with the second man, and together, they conspired to ensure that the first man’s team lost the first round of the competition. The second man bet on the first man’s team to lose the first round of the competition at odds of $2.40. During the competition, the first man deliberately performed poorly, leading to his team losing the first round. Consequently, both men made a profit of $7,000 from the bet, with the second man receiving $5,800 and the first man receiving $1,200. Both men were subsequently arrested. The first man was charged with engaging in conduct that corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of an event or event contingency. The second man was charged with use of corrupt conduct information for betting purposes.
How should sports organisations respond to allegations of match-fixing?
Sports organisations should respond to allegations of match-fixing in accordance with their betting and integrity policy. For example, Basketball Australia’s National Integrity Framework contains specific provisions which prohibit match-fixing. If the organisation does not possess such a policy, it should contact a legal specialist to ensure that it adopts and implements such a policy.
Among other things, an effective betting and integrity policy should:
- clearly describe what match-fixing is and provide examples of how it can occur;
- explicitly state the possible consequences of match-fixing;
- clearly describe the disciplinary process which is used to deal with allegations of match-fixing, ensuring that the process is procedurally fair; and
- clearly describe the circumstances in which the sports organisation should direct the allegations to law enforcement for investigation.
Sports organisations must ensure that their athletes, staff members and clubs are aware of this policy. Ways to do this would include:
- providing training and education programs which are aimed at developing and enhancing people’s understanding of the policy and why it has been put in place. Such training and education should include details of the consequences of breaching the policy;
- keeping the policy up-to-date and providing updates and training (where necessary) to people to ensure that their understanding of the policy is current; and
- ensuring that the policy is accessible to all athletes, clubs, and staff members, including hard copies in the workplace where appropriate.
In terms of internal procedures, the policy should generally require the sports organisation to thoroughly investigate the allegations of match-fixing. The investigation must be done in a procedurally fair manner, in which the alleged perpetrator is provided all details of the allegations made against them, and a fair and reasonable opportunity to respond to such allegations. After the investigation is completed, the organisation should inform the alleged perpetrator of its decision. It is generally up to the organisation whether it would like to provide reasons for its decision.
If the alleged perpetrator is found guilty, the organisation should provide them with an appropriate sanction which is proportionate to their offending after providing them an opportunity to make submissions on penalty.
An example of this is the Collingwood betting scandal which occurred in 2011. In that case, Collingwood defender Heath Shaw had breached the AFL’s rules by making a $10 bet on teammate Nick Maxwell to kick the first goal of Collingwood’s match against Adelaide. Maxwell, who was a defender, had unexpectedly been selected to start the match in the forward line. Both Maxwell and Shaw relayed this information to family and/or friends who also made minor bets. After investigating the matter, the AFL found both Shaw and Maxwell guilty of offences against its betting and integrity rules. Shaw was suspended for 14 matches (six of the 14 matches were a suspended sanction) and fined $20,000. However, Maxwell was only fined $10,000. The reason for this was because Maxwell had not engaged in any betting activity himself. Rather, he was guilty of failing to warn his family members to not use the information he relayed to them to bet on the match.
If an alleged perpetrator is found guilty, the organisation’s betting and integrity policy should provide a mechanism for the person to appeal the decision before an independent panel or body on the basis of the finding of guilt or penalty. Having an appeal mechanism with an independent body overseeing it ensures that the sports organisation follows a procedurally fair process in addressing allegations of match-fixing.
Match-fixing is an ever-present threat to the viability of sport, particularly given the proliferation of betting agencies and recent trends of increased sports betting on many sports. Whereas years ago sports betting was mainly limited to the thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing codes, it’s now everywhere, and at various levels of sport, often not just the elite level. Australian governments have taken steps to combat match-fixing by implementing criminal laws which make it a serious offence to engage in such behaviour. However, this by itself is not enough. Sports organisations play a vital role in the prevention of match-fixing through education of their athletes and staff, and having robust integrity policies which are consistently implemented. If a sports organisation encounters allegations of match-fixing against one of its athletes or personnel, it is important that it acts quickly and fairly to ensure that a just outcome is achieved. The conduct is better addressed and seen by the public to have been address, investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be relied upon as legal advice. The contents of this article should be regarded as information only, and for specific legal matters, independent advice should always be sought. jenhorvath@Phsolicitor.com.au