This Article is the first in a series titled: “Tackling the Fix” where we will examine the legal treatment of incidents of match fixing in India to highlight impediments to its successful and comprehensive prosecution under law.
With the disruption of regular sports action across the world, the demand for sports content has precipitated the emergence of a number of domestic and regional competitions, especially in football and cricket that are often outside the governance pyramid of sport.
As illustrated by the recent scandal of the Uva T20 Premier League, where a domestic cricket tournament ostensibly organized in the Uva district in Sri Lanka turned out to be a fraudulent league event organized in Punjab in connivance with known bookies and match-fixers, such unsanctioned events and newly emergent leagues and competitions may lack effective regulatory oversight and the implementation of controls to prevent corruption which makes them vulnerable to manipulation and the fixing of outcomes.
In effecting a match-fix, while the perpetrators of a fix are motivated by immediate financial gains from bets placed on the fixed events in a match, they leave a number of victims of the match-fix in their wake from fans who are emotionally invested in the sport to broadcasters and sponsors who invest significant sums in the sports event. In sports there is a complex symbiotic relationship between the Sport, Fans, Broadcasters, Sports Federations and the players which secures the viability of the Sport and those that build careers around it.
This relationship is premised on trust in the uncertainty of the outcome, with the winning results determined by the superior exhibition of skill amongst participants; where a winning result or any event within the match is predetermined and fixed, it violates this trust and creates victims across the entire relationship. In such instances the credibility of the sports suffers and there is a need for the law to step in.
To secure the trust of stakeholders in the sport as well as increase the costs of engaging in match fixing, it is vital to prosecute acts of match fixing.
However, one of the prominent challenges authorities face while initiating prosecution on matters of match fixing is the inability to comprehensively identify victims who have suffered due to the act of match fixing. Indian criminal law currently does not recognize match manipulation as a specific offence, and thus the act is typically treated and prosecuted as an offence of cheating. However, the offence of cheating has been framed as a personal offence which requires the identification of a victim who has suffered harm from the act, with the perpetrator gaining from the loss occasioned to the victim. In Match Fixing, the impact of effecting the fix does not cause a direct actionable pecuniary harm to the fans or a stakeholder in the sport, nor is there a transfer of any property from such stakeholder to the fixer, meaning that the conditions to successfully institute an action for cheating are not made out under the law. Criminal law also requires strict adherence to the requirements of the offence and the satisfaction of a high-threshold of proof for conviction, which make it practically impossible to bring the act of match manipulation within the ambit of the offence of cheating as currently framed.
For instance in the 2013 Indian Premier League spot-fixing scandal, in which the cricket players S. Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan were implicated, prosecution was initiated under the offence of cheating under the Indian Penal Code as well as the offence of engaging in ‘organised crime’ under the Maharashtra Organized Crime Act. However, on account of a lack of an identifiable victim, the action on the grounds of cheating fell through, while with the charge of engaging in ‘organised crime’, the lack of engagement in continued unlawful activity as members of an organised crime syndicate meant that the ingredients of the offence were not made out, and thus prosecution failed to hold before the court.
In the case of the UvaT20 Premier League, Mr Ravinder Singh Dandiwal has been charged for the offence of ‘cheating’ under the Indian Penal Code and for engagement in gambling under the Public Gambling Act. In contrast to the offence of cheating under the Indian Penal Code, anti-gambling statutes treat the offence of gambling as an offence in itself and so while he may be successfully prosecuted for the offence of gambling, his indictment for the offence of cheating may fail to achieve the conditions set out for an offence of cheating. Such treatment of match-fixing would also mean that other participants in the fix, such as players, officials and intermediaries, who did not participate in betting on the fixed outcome would escape prosecution for participating in the match-fix.
Therefore the failure of the current law to treat match fixing as a specific offence calls for the need for a specific law on match fixing, that recognises the many stakeholder interests in sport and adequately protects the sport and such stakeholders from acts of match manipulation.
In recognition of the difficulties in acting against match-fixing, the Sports Law and Policy Centre, Bangalore and Vidhi Centre of Legal Policy have collaborated to draft research report titled “Fixing It: Tackling Match Manipulation” and proposed a draft legislation titled: “ The Prevention of Match Fixing and Promotion of Fair Play in Sports Bill, 2020”.
The research report examines the elements of match fixing, identifies the direct and consequential victims of match fixing, the networks at play in effecting a match-fix and the factors that motivate engagement in match fixing. The report builds the need and case for a match fixing legislation and leads to the draft bill which proposes a new mechanism for dealing with offences of match fixing by identifying that sports is the ultimate victim of match fixing and recommends both civil and criminal action against the perpetrators of the match fixing. It also recognizes internal victims of match fixing, which occur in certain situations such as captain of cricket team who may instruct his bowler to bowl a full toss- the bowler who may assume that such instructions is in pursuance of a strategic decision taken by the Captain may under the current law be treated as a perpetrator but under the proposed legislative framework, such a player would be treated as a victim and would be provided exemptions from punishment.
Further considering sports is the ultimate victim of the act of match fixing, it is important there being a strong governance framework in place to prevent the Acts of match fixing. Going beyond criminalization and to encourage prevention of match fixing the bill recommends strengthening of sports federations to enable their participation in the detection of match fixing and also play a proactive role in educating the players about the ills of sports corruption.
The next article in this series will look at the actors involved in conceptualising and executing a fix.