Before this football season, most supporters would probably have never given match-fixing a second thought. It seemed such a thing was limited only to the distant and murky underworld of deepest, darkest Asia. English football received an overdue wake-up call in late 2013 when a string of individuals were arrested. They included DJ Campbell, Sam Sodje, Akpo Sodje and Cristian Montaño; all current or former professional footballers. The games in question in this investigation relate to League One and below. While it’s not the Premier League, it’s still a reputable league with a considerable amount of money pumped into it.
Gambling on the game by professional footballers is also a problem. Andros Townsend recently received a fine and a ban for betting on a competition his team at the time were previously involved in. The FA’s rules on gambling within the sport aren’t particularly clear but they have done more in recent years to make players more aware of what they can and cannot bet on.
Firstly, there’s no blanket ban on players betting on football matches. There are plenty of scenarios where a player can place a bet on a match completely legitimately. The FA’s rules surrounding betting focus on competitions and leagues the player and his club are involved in. We’ll take a fairly simple example of Arsenal. This season they have been involved in the following competitions: the Premier League, the FA Cup, the Capital One Cup and the Champions League. An Arsenal player is forbidden from placing a bet in any game in any of the competitions listed. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Premier League game between Arsenal v Cardiff City or a Champions League game between Barcelona v Manchester City. The ban affects every single game in that competition. It also doesn’t matter how much of a role the player has at the club as the rules hold that “all Players registered with a Club are deemed to participate in every match played by that Club while they are so registered”. Even an Under-21 player at Arsenal who has never featured for the first team still cannot bet on the Champions League for example. If the player is employed by the club, he will be subject to the rules. The above rules are also applicable to a player who instructs someone to place a bet on his behalf. So the example Arsenal player cannot tell his wife to place a bet on a Premier League game between Liverpool v Aston Villa.
There are further regulations with using insider information. This is essentially where a player knows something which is not accessible to the general public and uses that knowledge to place a bet. A good example here is a player being told a new manager is being appointed the evening before an official announcement and placing a bet on that manager’s appointment. This is a banned practice by the FA; as is passing on the information to another person who can then use that information in relation to betting. In regards to passing on insider information to another individual, there must be evidence that the player involved did not reasonably foresee that the insider information would be used for betting. Such an argument would be tough to prove. Passing on insider information can be done via a variety of ways and even a casual remark on Twitter or Facebook is deemed to be an action of passing on insider information. The public nature of these social networking sites arguably means it is very likely that someone would see this information and use it for betting purposes.
The vast majority of match-fixing is to do with large sums of money. An individual may offer a player £70,000 to ensure his team loses. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a purely monetary sum. It could be a scenario where the individual offers the player a new car in return for making sure his team loses. All bribes and gifts are outlawed by the FA in games which the player is involved in. Perhaps the most important rule however is that failure to disclose to the FA a bribe or gift is an offence. It doesn’t matter whether the bribe was acted on or not, all approaches made by individuals towards to the player must be reported as soon as possible.
It’s fairly common to hear stories of how players involved in match-fixing have influenced the game by ensuring their team loses. This is actually one of the hardest ways to fix a match due to the variety of other factors influencing the game (other players, the referee, tactics etc.) which the fixer has no control over. Those involved in fixing are far more interested in taking advantage of the modern gambling environment. Conventional betting companies (bet365, William Hill etc.) offer a whole wealth of different markets in football matches to bet on. It could be how many corners there will be, who will receive the first yellow card or who will get sent off. The level of detail is pretty outstanding. It’s markets like this that fixers exploit. Typically an individual may approach a player and pay him a certain amount of money in order for him to get himself booked or to kick the ball out for a corner in the 20th minute. This is what’s known as spot-fixing – influencing a very specific part of the game.
There’s also a common misconception that fixers are using conventional bookmakers to place their bets and that the best way to eradicate fixing in Britain is to place restrictions on what kind of markets can be bet on. Unfortunately this is not the case. Fixers typically use Asian bookmakers who are completely unregulated. A shake up of the gambling market in the UK and Europe would have a very minimal effect on reducing match/spot-fixing at best. Fixing is a considerable problem not just in football. In terms of what can be done to help reduce it, I recommend reading Kevin Carpenter’s two-part series (see the links below) on the issues brought about by England’s match-fixing scandal.
- The FA Handbook 2013-14
- English match-fixing scandals – the 10 stand out issues – Part 1
- English match-fixing scandals – the 10 stand out issues – Part 2
- Football betting: Would blanket ban stop rule breaches?