Match-Fixing Project Continues as Partners Meet in Budapest

On the 5th and 6th June 2013, in Budapest, Hungary, the international football players association FIFPro organised a two-day training programme for all participating countries in the anti-match-fixing ‘Don’t Fix It!’ project – the education and prevention programme initiated by FIFPro, in cooperation with Birkbeck Sport Business Centre, UEFA and the European Union.

The project was launched in December 2012 with Dr. Andy Harvey of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre acting as the lead researcher. Dr. Harvey has been interviewing players and players’ associations in England, Finland, Greece, Italy, Norway, Romania, Scotland, Hungary and Slovenia, investigating the factors and motivations that invite match fixing, including gambling, criminal activities, intimidation and low wages.

Dr. Harvey was also a panelist on the panel at Transparency International UK’s ‘Corruption in Sport‘ event on the 3rd June 2013, alongside the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre’s Sean Hamil, where another anti-match-fixing parallel project, commissed by Transparency International UK, was presented. The Birkbeck Sport Business Centre has provided research support to this project.

Dr. Harvey commented that the conference in Budapest was the first milestone of the project where project partners and external experts gathered together to review the research findings so far. The experts, who were from different sectors – law, police, investigative journalism and Transparency International – discussed the measures that have been taken so far in different countries and in different sports to tackle the problem of match-fixing.

Markus Johula, Ian Smith, Julie Norris, Sylvia Schenk and Andy Harvey at the ‘Dont Fix It’ Conference in Budapest

Dr Harvey pointed out that the profile of match-fixing is different in different countries and settings. “The main lesson we have learned from the research is that the solutions that are put forward to tackle match-fixing need to be highly tailored and specific to the circumstances that exist in a particular situation”, he says.

“In the UK, for example, there is very little evidence, if any, of any substantial match-fixing, but there is some evidence of problems of gambling among players. Therefore in the UK, the main focus should be on education of players on the dangers of gambling, the rules and regulations in place with relation to betting and gambling, and the consequences that might arise should they develop a problem with gambling.

“In some countries such as Greece, or in Eastern European countries, it is difficult to talk about match-fixing in isolation from a wider corruption and a culture of bribery that exist in those societies and their football industries, to the extent some clubs are owned by known criminals. Therefore, tackling match-fixing alone can only be a partial solution and educating players can only be a partial answer to what is much a wider, systemic problem which is always going to require action on a number of levels including legal, cultural and law enforcement.

“Similarly, in other countries, such as Romania and Hungary, one of the bigger problems is the low level of players’ wages, sometimes [the players] don’t have written contracts, players don’t get paid on time, a culture of bullying and intimidation and a culture of cash payments and bonuses is present. In these cases players’ education is an important way of tackling the problem, but it has to take a different form. Players need to be educated on how to make sure that their trade unions know about the problems players are facing, and how these problems can then be tackled. The resolution to problems in these countries will revolve more around the ability to make sure that players have proper contracts, that payments are made on time and not in cash so that [the players] are less vulnerable to pressure to match-fix.”

These examples illustrate that “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to tackle match-fixing”. “Education and prevention programmes should be tailored to the needs of the target audience based on research into that audience,” argues Dr. Harvey.

“It is important to realise that to tackle match fixing across Europe it will be necessary to adopt a holistic approach, with attention to governance, financial regulation and co-operation between law enforcement agencies. Without tackling the social, cultural, legal and economic conditions, interventions such as education are likely to be ineffective.”

Dr Harvey also highlights the need for a peer education as an important tool. “It is important to identify the right people who have the trust and the respect of the others. It is a much more informal process, with smaller groups, where cultures build up through informal gatherings such as in changing rooms, or even in the pub, which can have a much bigger impact when compared to more formal processes such as those which are classroom-based.”

With this in mind, Andy suggests, players’ associations have an opportunity because they are familiar with the people and with the changing room dynamics and therefore they can identify the key people.

“Players’ associations have an important role to play and this is why FIFA and UEFA are now very keen to work with these organisations. This is because [players’ associations] have direct access to players. We know from the evidence that unless online education provisions are made compulsory very few players actually do it. On the other hand simply compelling players to take part may also undermine the objectives of any programme. Therefore work should be done to identify those people that players trust and respect, people that they can relate to such as former players, who speak the same language, in order to develop a more healthy and constructive process.”

A key next step in the project, says Andy, will be the national conferences and seminars each country will stage in the next few months. “Here at Birkbeck we will be able to support this process and to provide the different contexts with analytical tools to understand more clearly the problem they face.” In particular, Andy argues, Birkbeck will help with looking at flexible education and prevention interventions that will address their own particular concerns. “We will hopefully equip them with the understanding of how to design interventions in a way that reflects their situation, understands the motivations of players and takes into account the particular social, economic and cultural conditions so that any tailored response will be realistic in terms of what can be done in a specific context”, he says.

“The next step of the project will be making sure we have an input into the national training in each of the countries involved; we will continue carrying out the background research into the various aspects of the phenomena which will enable us to develop a good practice guide comprised of different tool-kits from which the different countries involved will be able to select from or work with.”

Andy indicates that one of the major plus points of the project is that it will get people in the countries involved talking to each other. “Different actors from different parts of the game – players’ associations, football associations, referees – will meet in those seminars, to share experiences, in some cases for the very first time.”

For fuller details of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre’s research activities on the subject of anti-match fixing please visit the Anti-Match Fixing project webpage.

View all News articles