Online gambling is a gateway to match-fixing

Online gambling is a gateway to the scourge of match-fixing, and EU member states must coordinate their efforts for better regulation, writes Marc Tarabella.

Marc Tarabella | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Marc Tarabella

Marc Tarabella (BE, S&D) is co-chair of Parliament’s Bureau of the Sports Group

19 Mar 2018

As the World Cup draws near - this year it will take place in Russia - we must examine the financial stakes in terms of online gambling.

The online gambling market is flourishing, thanks to the spread of the internet and the proliferation of operators offering all sorts of bets. A sporting event such as the World Cup is a huge boost to this market. 

For example, in 2016 in France the UEFA European championship and the Rio Olympics in 2016, profits from online gambling increased by 45 per cent, reaching a grand total of €2bn.


The main risk when such large sums are gambled is the looming threat of match-fixing, where the outcome of the game is known in advance by ill-intentioned individuals.

Fraudsters primarily target matches between lower division teams, where players don’t earn huge salaries and can therefore be more easily influenced by being slipped cash before a game. There has been a lot of match-fixing in recent years.

For example, in April 2017, the little-known Eldense team from the Spain’s third division, was the subject of such manipulation, by losing 12-0 to FC Barcelona’s B-team. 

This type of corruption in sport doesn’t only affect poorly publicised matches - in fact, it also occurs during World Cup qualifiers. 

Allegedly, several players from Salvador were approached ahead of a qualifying match against Canada for this year’s World Cup, with a view to arranging a result that would benefit Honduras, Canada’s main competitor in the group phase.

This type of fraud doesn’t only occur in football; it also extends to other sports. Indeed, tennis is particularly affected by corruption. In 2016, the Times revealed that no less than 16 players taking part in the Australian Open were involved in match-fixing. Players are generally approached before a match and asked to lose a set, a game or even just a point at a specific time during the match.

In 2013, the European Parliament adopted an own-initiative report deploring the lack of cooperation between national authorities in the fight against sports fraud. We also insisted on the need to respect ethical standards when it comes to sports betting. 

I fought to prevent betting on competitions involving minors and defended a ban on ‘spot fixing’. Spot fixing is any illicit agreement on a specific action during a competition, such as a corner kick or a yellow card, which it appears are highly likely to be used to fix matches.

However, since sport is not an EU competence, it can only coordinate member states’ condemnation of such behaviour, not regulate it. Legislation on sports gambling varies hugely between the member states, and are therefore not fully efficient.

The convention on the manipulation of sports competitions (Macolin) is another effort in the fight against sports fraud. It is an international legal instrument that provides common definitions and mechanisms for international cooperation.

To enter into force, the convention - which was adopted in 2014 - must be ratified by five signatory countries. Unfortunately, even though it was signed by most Council of Europe member states, only three have ratified it to date. The adoption of such a document could provide a real benchmark for a variety of actors with different interests and competences.

Without political effort at EU and international level, and without also involving the sports community, we risk tarnishing something that I consider to be a global common good, which transcends borders and unites us regardless of our origins or skin colour - sport and its values.

I therefore call upon all stakeholders to mobilise and obtain the ratification of the Macolin convention as soon as possible, as well as developing an EU policy framework on online gambling.


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