The biggest scandals and match-fixing incidents
Pete Rose, the Pakistan cricket squad, the Italian football scandals: what these various affairs have in common is to have all become classic examples of sports fraud in their respective sports. Despite increased prevention and legal efforts to combat match-fixing, cases of illicit betting are to be found in all major sports.
This article offers an overview of the major scandals in all top sports, covering football, tennis, horse racing, baseball and cricket as well as to offer an explanation of what constitutes match-fixing and what are the different levers used by authorities to prevent it from happening. More than money, what is at stake is the integrity of sports and the risk that with too many scandals popular passion for these sports will die out.
The biggest scandals, sport by sport
In terms of match-fixing, all sports have suffered from several scandals. Below is an overview of the biggest match-fixing scandals to have surfaced in all major sports.
For football, Italy has been subject to the largest football scandals of all time.
The first case appeared in the early 1980s and came to be referred to as the “Totonero”, the black lottery scandal in Italian. After it was revealed that several players had placed bets on the results of their own teams, a wave of sanctions struck clubs and players alike: AC Milan and Lazio Roma were relegated to Serie B (the Italian Second Division) and the star striker of the Italian National team, Paolo Rossi, was suspended 2 years.
The second affair, much more recent, came to be known as the “Calcioscommesse” – the football betting scandal. In 2012, several players as well as a few team managers were found to have ties with local and international Mafia organizations and to have committed sports fraud to help with these groups’ money laundering activities. By betting money obtained illegally and placing it on bets of which the winnings are not linked to their criminal activities, these mobsters paid off players to “throw” games and recuperate clean money. Players such as Domenico Criscito and managers such as Antonio Conte were sanctioned, the former having to forfeit the Euro 2012 competition and the latter being suspended for a 10 month period.
Tennis has also seen its share of scandals. The latest one occured in the Sopot tournament, held in Poland in 2007. Russian tennis player, Nikolay Davidenko, ranked 4th in the ATP table, was due to play the Argentine Martin Vassallo Arguello, ranked 107th of the same table. After Davidenko won the first set of the game by 6-2, odds for the victory of Arguello shot through the roof, at which point suspicious gambling activity was detected from within the Russian Federation. The rest of the game: Davidenko losing the second set before forfeiting seem to confirm doubts that the Russian has decided to “throw” the game and colluded with gamblers in Russia.
The ensuing investigation by the ATP, however, did not result in any sanctions for the Russian as no evidence of sport-fraud could be found against him.
In 2011, the British Horseracing Authority reveals a scandal surrounding races going back to 2009. The BHA’s report underlines how, in the 2009 season, several horse owners and certain jockeys deliberately threw races while their horses were favourites in the odd-books.
These fraudsters received sums of at least £6,000 for previously having colluded with bookmakers and announced their intentions to fix the races in advance.
On April 3, 1989, the American magazine Sports Illustrated revealed to the public that former player and head coach of the Cincinnati Reds, Pete Rose, had placed bets on his own teams’ performance that season. The following investigation of Rose’s betting activity revealed in the Dowd report demonstrated no less 52 games by the Reds on which Rose had gambled. Even worse, the report revealed that during that period, Rose had bet at least $10,000 per day.
While these numbers and the outcomes Rose was betting on (his team’s victory or his team’s defeat) are subject to much controversy, Rose was banned from the MLB as well as placed on an ineligible list by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 2010, the British tabloid News of the World revealed that members of Pakistan’s national cricket team had accepted bribes to spot-fix during the test match series against England. During one of the games, fast bowlers Amir and Asif were found to have deliberately bowled no balls at particular moments in an over in exchange for money from a bookmaker.
With video evidence of the transaction supporting claims that players had accepted bribes, the ICC (International Cricket Council) decided to ban Salman Bett, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amir for periods ranging from 5 to 10 years. In addition, the court found the players guilty on criminal charges and gave the participants – both the players and the bookmaker – sentences from 6 months to two and a half years in prison.
Below is the footage that was leaked by the News of the World and used to convict the players as well as the bookmaker from which they had accepted money for spot-fixing the England-Pakistan test game of 2010.
Match-fixing: crime and punishment
Sports fraud of various kinds periodically make it to the headlines. However, not all fraudsters employ the same mechanisms and not all types of fraud are reprimanded equally.
Different types of fraud
- Illegal betting – Athletes are forbidden to bet on their own league and sometimes even on their own sport. This broad category of sports fraud can encompass anything from an athlete going against the rules and betting on a sporting event to outright manipulation of the result by players having bet on their own performance, akin to insider trading. Generally speaking, professional athletes are discouraged to gamble because of the risk it poses if they come in debt to a bookmaker to settle the debt by “throwing” a game.
- Match-fixing – This type of fraud consists in any of the actors in the sporting event falsifying the result. This can be achieved either by corruption of the players, the coach, or even the officials supervising the event or by the actors’ own initiative – to win a bet for example. Certain types of match-fixing are intended to falsify the results of the game or league for athletic reasons or for gambling purposes.
- Spot-fixing – a particular type of match-fixing, spot-fixing is difficult to trace. Since it consists in falsifying one of the aspects of the game without necessarily impacting the final result, it is not a clear case of a team “throwing” a game or race or other event. Instead, it is intended to produce a result on a certain type of bet that will play a minor role in the final outcome of the event. “Minute of next yellow card” is a good example of the type of event in a game that can be fixed without it impacting the final result.
The line between the different types of fraud is rather blurry, for instance: when does spot-fixing become match-fixing? when does illicit betting constitute a form of match-rigging, even subconsciously?
To outline these vague categories, a growing legal framework oversees the enforcement of a consistent ethical code throughout various sports.
Sport fraud: what are the risks?
In tracking sports-fraud, various entities collaborate to safeguard the ethics of sportsmanship as well as the risk of money laundering through gambling winnings.
The penalties ensuing from this multilateral process cover a wide panel. Depending on the gravity of the case, different administrative bodies are entitled to sanction fraudulent parties. This also determines to a certain extent the severity of the sanction.
- Bookmakers can restrict suspicious activity in the following ways:
- Cancel bets
- Suspend accounts
- Exclude players from their site
- Leagues may sanction participants in the following ways:
- Point deduction
- Title withdrawals
- The legal system may step in, in cases of corruption, and add to the athlete or teams’ sanction as well as punish outsiders with:
The arsenal of legal sanctions for offenders is constantly being expanded, particularly with the rise of online betting. The effect has been to reduce overall the cases of infractions to the code of sportsmanship and ethical playing, but has also increased the stakes in the affairs of corruption with greater and greater sums being engaged in this type of illegal activity.
Ultimately, the fans are always the real losers in these affairs as the image of competitive sportsmanship is tarnished by successive scandals.
With the increased risk of manipulation of sport results, cooperation on several levels has been put in place in order to prevent match-fixing and other forms of illicit bets. Leagues, police, judicial systems and bookmakers share information to prevent and to help prosecute match-fixing.
- Bookmakers can trace unusual betting activity and notify authorities
- Leagues can investigate on suspicious games and/or teams
- Police can interrogate and follow-up actors that have been flagged by the relevant instances
For example, in football, the UEFA – the Union of European Football Associations – has made it a matter of policy to carefully review results in the first and second divisions of all member countries. According to its statistics, over a total of 32,000 matches submitted to surveillance, only 0,7% of results are subject to doubt.
It is also a matter of policy for the UEFA, in complement to its preventative role, to be harsh in the sanctions it delivers to players, clubs, or officials for not revealing that they have been contacted to alter a result. For example, for an official not to reveal even an attempt to pressure him for money is sanction-able by a life-long ban from the UEFA.
Through this dual program of prevention and legal sanction, the UEFA as well as most major sports league hope to safeguard integrity and ethics in professional sports.
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