[Author: Naman Kumar, student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, Telangana, India]
What is Match Fixing?
Match-fixing consists of playing a match to a wholly or partially pre-determined result, violating the game’s rules and often the law. A sport consists of a contest between individuals or teams who agree to compete by the same rules. The uncertainty of the result is an essential part of a sport’s desirability. When matches are fixed, there is a loss of integrity in the sport, and fans feel distanced from the sport they love. Matches get fixed when inducements are offered to players/teams to underperform to drive the game to a particular result. Fixers tend to bet on the match, knowing the result which they have already fixed or which player will underperform, et al. These days, spot-fixing is another phenomenon that is becoming increasingly prevalent. It is essentially a form of manipulation in which an isolated aspect of a game, typically unrelated to the final result or outcome of the game, is pre-determined and fixed to ensure a specific result in a wager placed on such aspect.
Laws related to match fixing in India
Currently, there are no laws explicitly related to match-fixing in India. One prospective legal construct under which Match Fixing could be considered an offence is Cheating (Section 415-420) in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. After all, the fans are being cheated of their entertainment, in a way.
Cheating is defined under S.415. Here, it must be noted that the construction of S. 415 is such that it mentions the phrase, ‘deceiving any person’. In match-fixing, it is not a person who is cheated; instead, people at large are being cheated. The framers of the IPC have used the term ‘public or people in general for the offences against the public at large, for example, Mischief. Hence, we cannot construe ‘person’ as ‘public’. This constitutes the first reason why match-fixing does not come under ‘cheating’ in IPC.
Also, ‘Cheating’ under IPC requires a “transfer of property” to happen. However, there is no direct transfer of property happening between the perpetrator (match-fixers) and the victim (public at large).
Another possible legal principle that must be considered is Criminal Conspiracy (S. 120-A), as match-fixing is often an act committed by more than one person(s). Criminal conspiracy acts as an additional offence applied when multiple persons commit an illegal act under IPC.
However, because there is no provision in the code for match-fixing, it cannot be considered “illegal” per se, even though it is immoral. Furthermore, the means to fix the match cannot be classified as illegal as it is just a money transfer unless the money is of questionable origin. Thus, the essentials of criminal conspiracy are not fulfilled; hence, this section is not applicable.
Another legislation whose construction can be expanded to apply to the cases of match-fixing is the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (POCA). Through its objects and reasons, this act aims to punish corrupt public servants and those who give bribes. Under this act, a public servant has been defined as ‘any person who holds an office by which he is authorised or required to perform any public duty’.
In the case of Board of Control for Cricket Vs. Cricket Association of Bihar, the Supreme Court of India, has stated that while BCCI is not a part of ‘State’, it performs functions of public importance and is amenable under the writ jurisdiction of High Court u/a 226 of the Indian Constitution. This explanation of the function of BCCI by the Apex Court makes BCCI a body performing public duty u/s.2(d) of POCA. A person who performs public duty is a public servant. Hence, BCCI and the players contracted by it, by extension, come under the purview of POCA, thus, making them liable for accepting consideration for deliberately failing in their duties (or, in this case, performance in a match). For this extension to become a precedent, there is a need for a more liberal/broader interpretation by the courts.
Another law governing or dealing with match-fixing and betting is the Public Gambling Act, 1867. However, even the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Anti-Corruption Unit’s Coordinator of Investigations, Steve Richardson, has labelled the legislation as ‘totally archaic’ and regarded the punishments envisioned in the legislation as ‘laughable’. Such characterization is primarily due to paltry fines mentioned in the act, the highest being six hundred rupees.
International conventions and match fixing
The most recent and the most prominent convention of all is the Convention on Manipulation of Sports Competitions, also referred to as the ‘Macolin’ Convention. It was drafted in 2014 and was signed by thirty countries and ratified by five countries from European and Scandinavian regions. It deals with match manipulation in Article 3 and aims at preventing and punishing the menace of sports betting and match manipulation.
Another prominent International Convention is the United Nations Convention against Corruption (‘UNCAC’), also referred to as Merida Convention. It necessitates the countries to create criminal and other offences of corruption. This act covers active and passive forms of corruption. Active corruption is the act of offering something to another person for underperforming or breaching his duties. In contrast, Passive corruption includes solicitation or acceptance of an undue advantage to the person seeking breach of duty. Players, support staff, and match officials who help bookies and match-fixers earn money come under the ambit of Passive corruption. Nevertheless, the drawback of such international conventions is that these aren’t binding on the parties and are toothless at the end of the day due to the lack of an enforcement body.
On the contrary, the United Kingdom has a UK Gambling Act, 2005, which through its Article 42, criminalises ‘cheating at gambling’. This legislation has proved to be a very efficient provision. People fix matches to earn money by placing bets on pre-decided matches.
This act, while legalising gambling, criminalises cheating at gambling, thus helping in curbing the menace of match-fixing, and also helps in bringing betting into the formal economy by eliminating the parallel economy.
Through its Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act, 1970 (‘RICO Act‘), even the United States of America has recognised match-fixing as a part of organised crime. RICO Act explicitly defines ‘sports bribery’ as a part of ‘racketeering activity‘. This act assists the authorities to connect ‘fixers’ to their ‘lords’, thus, helping in the effective elimination of such violators.
In the case of Venzor v. Gonzalez, the RICO act was used to prosecute the perpetrators of Match-Fixing. This case dealt with a match-fixing incident in a boxing match in Illinois. This act has been effective and efficient in helping governments curb the wrongful act at the intersection of organized crime and match-fixing.
Ways to curb match fixing
- Sufficient monetary compensation
Money is the primary incentive for players to fix matches. Most match-fixing incidents happen in leagues, where there is relatively lesser pay. This lack of equitable pay forces some people into immoral activities. A discovery of match-fixing in Chinese football leagues revealed that the players in the league were making as little as €235 per month and that money was never guaranteed to come on time. Naturally, this did not just create resentment for the player towards their club but also incentivized them to make a better living through morally and legally questionable methods.
To disincentivize players from fixing matches, the club/team officials must ensure equitable pay. There is also an added need for transparency in this process to ascertain players’ fair market value to ensure that they are not being underpaid; this will also prevent players from being lured by people to fix matches.
It is also vital that awareness is improved amongst the players across levels. It is imperative to do so amongst junior leagues to ensure the correct ethics are inculcated amongst the upcoming players. Meanwhile, proper education is required amongst relatively senior leagues to ensure that players understand how certain people trap players into such scandals by approaching them, not so explicitly.
- Effective and efficient enforcement of laws
It is also crucial that penal laws and league policies are effectively and efficiently implemented in the case of match-fixing or other associated violations because it is the effectiveness of the conviction and not the severity of the punishment which is the more significant deterrent. If players and other people involved in match-fixing know that they are bound to get caught when they do such activities, that will help curb this menace. This requires education and training. Law and policy enforcement agencies’ officials must be adequately educated and trained in substantive and procedural laws relating to these offences and certain other associated crimes that may range from drug peddling to underworld connections. This requires a specialized task force so that all these connections can also be explored when crimes like match-fixing happen.
- New robust legislations
While laws need effective and efficient implementation, it is also necessary that gaps in substantive and procedural laws are filled. The best way to fill legislative loopholes is by a robust new all-encompassing legislation. India has seen many match-fixing and betting scandals, including the 2000 Match-Fixing Scandal involving Hanse Cronje, Md. Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, et al., The 2013 IPL spot-fixing case including Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan, and the ban on CSK and RR for 2016-2017 in the Indian Premier League for their managements’ participation in match-fixing. The convictions in these offences have not taken place. The people have gotten away with just a slap on the wrists. Such fixing scandals have promoted associated crimes like underworld presence, gambling rings, tax evasions and a parallel economy. Justice Lodha Committee, set up by the Supreme Court of India, emphasised the need for separate treatment of match/spot fixing on the one hand and betting on the other by punishing match-fixing and regulating betting. The Committee, among other reforms, recommended that match/spot-fixing be made a criminal offence. Additionally, the 276th Law Commission of India report recommended that match-fixing and sports fraud be deemed “criminal offences” and be dealt with “severe punishments”. The Justice Mudgal IPL Probe Committee also recommended legalising sports betting to reduce the influence of black money and the underworld.
Suggestions for a specialised legislation
The special legislation should ensure that match-fixing is criminalised in explicit terms to ensure that there is no misuse or interpretational difficulties that might result in lesser convictions.
There must be amendments in POGA to ensure that sports betting is legalised and is brought into the formal economy. This will result in reduced tax evasion, increased tax collections, prevention of misuse of money and increased employment opportunities.
This also has the potential to discourage match-fixing. Like the UK legislation, it must be ensured that ‘cheating in betting’ is criminalised. It needs to be criminalised for, while it is not immoral and must not be illegal to bet on the outcome of a sport that is being played fairly, betting on the outcome of a sport whose outcome has been fixed is immoral and must be criminalised.
Proper betting regulations need to be formulated. A system like e-NAM or other centralized payment monitoring systems must be in place to give real-time updates to people interested in the whole betting process.
The law on match-fixing must punish not only the bookies and the fixers but also players, coaches, umpires and other match officials who might indulge in such immoral activities. This means that it must criminalise both active and passive match-fixing. The bill should be compatible with other sports as well. There must be provisions to direct authorities like BCCI, the Indian Olympic Association, or the All-India Football Federation to impose penalties on payers or bench them until the investigation is complete. Not only substantive law but it must be ensured that even the procedural side of the law is entirely sound.
The new legislation must also entail the formation of specialised tribunals/courts with the right to appeal to the parties. This will help ensure that speedy justice can occur as these days, with sport becoming commercial to a considerable extent, prolonged trials can cause reputation losses to many players or officials, resulting in the loss of sponsorships and advertising opportunities. These trials are also a cause of negative publicity for the team/club/board for which the person is playing.
For any query, feedback or discussion, the author can be contacted at [firstname.lastname@example.org]
PREFERRED CITATION: Naman Kumar, Match Fixing and Associated Deterrence Mechanisms – Need for a Special Legislation in India, SLPRR <https://sportslawandpolicyreviewreporter.com/?p=1785> February 10, 2022.
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