Sports Integrity Initiative: Nigel Mawer – I’ve changed my mind, we need a match-fixing law

Detective Chief Superintendent, Chair of the Darts Regulation Authority (DRA), Vice Chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), Special Member of Sport Resolutions UK’s Panel of Arbitrators. Nigel Mawer’s past and current accolades are a mouthful in themselves. Now retired from the police, Mawer, a one-man crime combating champion, continues to devote his knowledge and expertise to the cause, but now channels his skills towards the sports industry. A heavyweight in the world of sports regulation, the Sports Integrity Initiative interviewed Mawer to talk about all things match-fixing, both in snooker, darts and beyond.

Betting Industry Relationships

One of the criticisms levelled at sports governing bodies in recent years is their reluctance to engage with the betting industry in trying to combat match-fixing together. When it comes to snooker and darts, these sports have no such qualms – a move welcomed openly by Mawer who works regularly in unison with both the Gambling Commission, the regulatory body for most gambling activities in Great Britain, and the betting operators to suss out cases of match-fixing.

“I’d agree that snooker and darts are two of the most closely aligned sports with the betting industry,” agrees Mawer. “In my role with snooker and darts I work very closely with the Gambling Commission. Under Schedule 6 of the Gambling Act 2005, when the betting operators see any suspicious activity, they have to tell the Gambling Commission. This legislation also provides a gateway through which they can share material with sports governing bodies. We liaise closely with them because there is always the issue of a case becoming a criminal one.”

“However betting operators, when they detect suspicious activity, they also have to tell their sports governing body. Now the biggest problem that the betting industry has is knowing where to share, because although the main sports have a single point of contact, not all do.”

Mawer is hesitant as he continues. “I won’t mention the sport, but there’s one sport that doesn’t want to be associated with the betting industry at all,” he says, stressing that this is an opinion – his opinion. “They take that to this degree meaning that they don’t want to have any MOUs [Memorandum of Understanding] or engage with the betting industry in the same way. They rely on the Gambling Commission. The Gambling Commission is there and the Sports Betting Intelligence Unit is there to perform a function, but the problem is that they work nine to five, Monday to Friday.”

Most sport, of course, happens at a weekend. The numbers don’t add up. “I think some sports see the betting industry as not a plus to be aligned to,” laments Mawer. “If you’re not sponsored by the betting industry or you don’t have any commercial involvement with the betting industry, they argue that the betting industry hangs on the back of their sport. They don’t necessarily want to be closely associated with them.”

“We are all working in the same area. It’s advantageous to all of us to cooperate. I am in a slightly different position because the betting industry are quite heavily involved in snooker and in darts. They’re not as involved as heavily in some other sports, they’re quite heavily involved in sport as a whole.”

Snooker – the cleanest sport around?

In 2011, Barry Hearn, Chairman of World Snooker said,” I believe now we are the cleanest sport around.” Is it?

“I’ve looked long and hard at it,” says Mawer. “I work closely with the ICSS [International Centre for Sport Security] who use Sportradar [a global sports data company] to monitor snooker and betting worldwide, and through that I know that there are between 3,700 and 3,900 professional matches every year. I only regulate the professional game. I’ve been doing this job since 2011 and I’ve had probably 11 issues that we’ve needed to look at. If you put that in context, that’s a very low proportion. Very, very low – and of that we’ve had three cases that have led to players being banned for betting-related issues.”

snookerissues

Mawer is triumphant, but he does concede that his job is made easier by the fact that there are only 128 professionals on the world snooker circuit. The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the trade union for professional footballers in England and Wales alone, has over 4,000 members.

“I’m very, very lucky as I’ve got 128 professionals – sometimes this rises to 136. All of them are playing on a tour that I have a considerable involvement with. Which makes it very manageable. The second thing is that the betting markets on snooker and on darts they do peak and trough but they’re nowhere near as big as they are in, for example, football. When you go delve into snooker markets they’re highly illiquid- there’s not a lot of money in them. This means that unusual betting stands out.”

“In a two person competition the odds are not so good unless you go into the handicap betting markets, such as exact score or number of frames played in a match. If you put a lot of money into these illiquid markets it will stand out and cause questions to be asked.”

It all sounds so simple, and makes one wonder why anyone would attempt to spot-fix in the world of snooker in the first place. “That’s how we caught Lee,” says Mawer. Stephen Lee, a professional snooker player, was found guilty by an independent tribunal in September 2013 of influencing the outcome of seven matches in 2008 and 2009.

“A huge spike,” he explains. “They were not naïve – that’s probably too strong a word – but they didn’t understand how the market worked. What they did was they looked at it and they thought, ‘Well, where can we get our best return?’, and the best return was on spot-fixing. And we spotted that a mile away.”

“By comparison, the big danger when you’ve got a sport like football is you can put a significant amount of money into the market which will give you a good return, where it won’t look unusual. Which is why they have a lot more problems I think than we do around that.”

Snooker has its patch and defends it like no other. Even the type and scale of match-fixing varies greatly from sport to sport, so is there anything that snooker can do to help other governing bodies? Should there be more cooperation? 

“I sit on the Sports Betting Group and on the Sports Betting Integrity Forum. We work with all sorts of governing bodies. As a freelance sports integrity adviser I also formally and informally advise other sports from the learning that I’ve had from my exposure. With the WPBSA I work closely with the obvious sports – cricket, football etc. as well as very closely with British Horseracing (BHA) because historically have been some overlaps with corrupted jockeys and corrupted snooker players.”

Catching the key decision-maker

Something that Mawer has talked about a lot in the past is that the key decision maker in any scenario is almost never the sportsman themselves. How do you link back to not just the corrupted players but the wider structure around them? Is it just a case of balancing the sports governing body regulation with government legislation? Mawer ran the corruption enquiry into the 2010 spot-fixing saga involving members of the Pakistan cricket team, in which three international cricketers, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt were convicted and banned from the sport for a number of years, as well as receiving prison sentences in the UK.

“When the case came to me and I looked at it, the main point was that all the money, £150,000, went to a guy that the ICC [International Cricket Council] had no power over,” says Mawer. “It seemed to me that it was in the public interest to prosecute as they were fixing part of a match at Lord’s – it was very high profile”.

“In this case things were the right way round – the fixer got punished – he got two and a half years in prison. But in most cases, they’re very frustrated about this issue.”

“The problem is in normal day-to-day sport is that it doesn’t have that profile. Which means when presented to the police and the CPS, it’s very, very hard to get them to focus away from their key responsibilities – community safety and murder and mayhem, etc. etc.”

“To actually get a local force, which is very stretched, to devote resources to dealing with this type of issues, it’s hard. And they don’t have the necessarily the understanding of how it all works.”

“It’s very hard for the fixers themselves to get any sort of prosecution. In fact horse racing do a very interesting thing. They cite the other people involved even if they have no jurisdiction over them, and give them the opportunity of attending the hearing.”

“Michael Chopra is a footballer who got involved in corrupting a jockey,” explains Mawer. “He was absolutely nothing to do with the BHA in terms of regulation but they found him guilty at their tribunal of the corruption issues around the jockey. You might say what’s the point of that?”

“Well, firstly, it’s adverse publicity in terms of the finding, but secondly he’s banned from every racecourse in the country, or any involvement in horse racing and his opportunity to have betting accounts are also restricted as a result of that finding. It’s not the equivalent of going to prison, but it’s quite an interesting expansion of the governing bodies’ role.”

Snooker however, is yet to embrace this route of ‘prosecution’.

“Stephen Lee is the classic case in which we could have cited the sponsor and the manager and got them to the tribunal and got a finding,” says Mawer. “I got conflicting legal advice about what that would have done for us, because in my ideal position what should have happened is I would have liked to have gone after them for costs, and there’s a mixed legal view on whether or not there’s an avenue through which we could have pursued that.”

“What I am doing now – I’ve done it in darts and it’s just about coming into force, and I’ll do it in snooker – and that’s licencing managers and agents. So that they are subject to the rules and that gives us a civil avenue, should we convict them, to sue them for costs and damages.”

“It only works with people that are professionally linked with the player. The problem with a lot of the fixing is that it is wider than that. Fortunately in my experience with snooker, most of it has been fairly parochial. So there has been some link with crime overlap, but a crime overlap happens because the people who are criminals are actually snooker fans. They’re sad cases really!”

Government legislation – a change of mind

Over the last few years there has been a lot of discussion as to whether there should be a specific match-fixing law in the UK. Formerly of the school of thought that current legislation was sufficient, Mawer now argues for the alternative – there needs to be a specific match-fixing law.

“My view has changed actually,” admits Mawer. “My original view was that there was adequate legislation in the UK to use for these types of offences, especially now we’ve got the Bribery Act etc. That’s made a lot of difference and was very helpful.”

“However having looked at the Australian experience – where they’ve legislated and there are specific criminal offences for this type of issues – I’ve changed my view. The way that I see it now is that if it’s actually on the statute books as an offence, specifically, then it’s slightly harder for law enforcement to say, ‘Well, actually, we’re not going to deal with that.’”

It’s an interesting change of tack. Not so much that there is not sufficient legislation in the UK, but more that there needs to be a named offence to act as incentive for law enforcers to pursue a case, or to make it easier for them to do so.

“Currently, when you go to law enforcement they’re trying to find something to hang match-fixing on or make it fit. However if you go to them where there is something on the statute books, put there by government, that means that it’s something that they’re expected to look at and I think that that’s the difference.”

For Mawer it’s a simple case of apportioning funds. With a named law, prosecuting authorities and the police have got to make decisions about apportioning their funds. If they think it’s more complicated because it comes under so many acts or laws or may not come under any then they’re less likely to pursue it, whereas a named law or a named deterrent is much easier to compartmentalise.

“I think there needs to be a match-fixing Act in the UK,” says Mawer emphatically. “You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Australia have legislation already and there are clearly defined different offences in that legislation, with different penalties too.”

“Certainly it’s emphasising the serious nature of it. One caveat though is that they did in Australia have the case of the English footballers who fixed football down there and they went through that process and the courts gave them a fine. That was probably less than they would have got from heir governing body!”

“The difference though was that the fixers themselves were convicted, but even so the penalties were a bit disappointing. It does mean that even if you do have that legislation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the outcomes will be a sufficient deterrent.”

Perhaps the answer therefore is that there needs to be better cooperation between governing bodies and prosecutors working with the legislation?

“Absolutely,” replies Mawer. “One of my key things is that if you have a criminal investigation going on, it should be done in tandem with the sports governing body. The problem that I had with the Lee case is that it had been going since 2010 with no information going back to the governing body , and the first time that we knew what the case was about properly was after the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] had dropped the case in late 2012.”

“I had to almost start again. It took me four months to put things back together again, for a case that was already two years old. There are potential abuse of process arguments and all sorts that could be made in that instance. Because arguably, in an ideal world I would already know what the case was about and the material that could have been legitimately shared with me could have been shared and I could have had my case ready to go as soon as the other criminal case fell.”

“I think that that’s really important going forward – cooperation is key.”

Mawer speaks with passion and authority on the topic of match-fixing legislation. But there was a time where he argued to stay with the status quo. What were his arguments against having match-fixing Acts before the change of heart? 

“There was some pragmatism in it,” admits Mawer. “It’s very difficult to get legislation on the statute books. There’s a big queue. You’re not talking about a fast process to be able to deliver that. Secondly when you actually look at the legislation that exists, it does actually cover it.”

“There are criminal offences that will cover off most aspects of match-fixing. Whether you talk about money laundering, whether you talk about bribery, whether you talk about specific offences of cheating – there are opportunities within all of that to prosecute people. The difficulty is, and because it doesn’t mention criminality and sport in the same word, it’s easy to duck it.”

“It’s not essential for a named law – if you get a prosecutor who is keen, and you can find the resources to do it, there are no barriers to criminally prosecuting people for doing this. But I just think that my changing view, for having a specific offence, would mean you’d say it’s a bit like a burglary – it’s very clear what constitutes a burglary. If you have a specific offence of fixing a match or aspects of a match, then it’s very clear cut as you can say, ‘Look, this is the offence – my sport is being burgled.’ You can then press to have some action taken.”

“It also highlights the fact that the British legislative system say that this is a problem and this is criminal. That’s’ what you end up coming to – a statement.”

Nigel Mawer has decades of experience both in law enforcement with the police, and in sports regulation in his current roles. Here is a man at the top of his game and yet keen to learn, to expand his understanding of the area, and crucially, not afraid to change his mind. Match-fixing and sports regulation is a constantly evolving game of cat-and-mouse and Mawer puts forward a convincing case for arguing that the prosecutors are falling behind. There are widespread calls in both the legal and sports industries to update UK law on match-fixing and corruption in sport. If nothing changes, the authorities are in danger of falling so far behind the mice – the match-fixers of this world – that catching up will become a challenge far beyond anything that they’ve had to deal with to date.

• This article was originally published in the Sports Integrity Initiative internet journal on 11 September 2015. To access the original, please click here.

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