Aaron Ramsey, Prince William and Why Match-Fixing Matters to the UK

“Football is not just an industry.  It has more in common with the National Gallery and St. Paul’s Cathedral… it is a national treasure.” (Gerry Sutcliffe MP)

If you are not interested in football you may be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about.    Here is why then Britons should care deeply about the new fixing scandal in their country.

It is about soft-power: the stuff that strategist talk about when they stop chattering on about tanks, planes and missiles.   It is the stuff that makes nations great and gets trade deals done.

I have walked through a bus station in northern Ghana and been harassed by a worker wearing a Michael Essien shirt – ‘This is a Chelsea-only area’:   I have had long conversations in Europe about Paulo di Canio’s management style at Swindon Town:  I have watched the FA Cup Final on the streets of Singapore with tens-of-thousands of other people.

This is not a unique experience.

Ask just about any UK expat – businessman, aid worker or ESL teacher – and they will report at some point British football has helped them.   It does not mean that every time a deal swung on their clients liking Manchester United, but the popularity of British football certainly helps much of the time.   Unbelievable as it may seem, Aaron Ramsey is better known in many parts of the world than Prince William or other members of the British Royal Family.

The popularity of British football is based on its reputation as a tough, hard, but clean sport.

This is now in jeopardy.   If UK sports authorities do not rise to the challenge and send a strong message that corruption will not be tolerated, then a significant part of British prestige and ‘soft power’ will take an enormous hit.

For this reason, over the next few weeks I will be hosting a discussion on what officials can actually do.   The first guest blogger is the rising young sports lawyer and football  referee Kevin Carpenter.  If you feel moved please join in the discussion. It is an important one.

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      KEVIN CARPENTER ON MATCH-FIXING SOLUTIONS

Here are a few comments on each point from the perspective of the sports lawyer specialising in integrity matters:

1.     The idea of an amnesty in relation to match-fixing does not sit easily with me and other sports lawyers. Indeed it in terms of controversy it is up there with lie-detector testing. If we were to have such a program put in place then in my opinion it would have to be led by the police as participants in sport do not have sufficient faith in their governing body that such information would be handled with the sufficient degree of confidentiality and sensitivity required.

As you quite rightly say, any such program would have to be time limited. I would possibly say as little as 30 days. Anonymity is imperative when reassuring those who have either fixed or been approached.

As for keeping their ill-gotten gains, if they have any left, then I think one option would be to say that any money will have to be forfeited to be put towards funding a new integrity unit for the good of the game as a whole.

Outside expertise is absolutely essential. It is regrettable that I, and experts that I work with, have been ignored by sports governing bodies on too many occasions. They think they can deal with it themselves or can simply ignore it. We will still be there to help when something goes wrong, and won’t say “we told you so”, but it would be far better to be proactive.

2.     UEFA has introduced a system of integrity officers throughout all member associations in Europe. However, the funding made available for them is the same regardless of the size of the FA which means that often the role of Integrity Officer has to be combined with that of say Security Office. Also when candidates are chosen the latter is given more importance. Therefore expertise of match-fixing is lacking. Therefore outside expertise of gambling specialists, lawyers expert in sport integrity and law enforcement must be utilised on a regular basis. Look at the use of an Ombudsman in German football which is working well.

3.     A truly independent reporting hotline is an absolute must. This should be run by an organisation like Crimestoppers who have been doing the same for the British Horseracing Authority in the UK with considerable success. Consideration should also be given to more novel methods such as the anonymous app that is being trialled in Finland.

4.     This is where partnership comes to the fore as assistance with addiction problems are best managed by the union in each country for players, managers, referees etc.

5.     Honouring contracts and contractual stability is not really a problem in the UK where we have 5 tiers of professional football. The FIFPro Black Book showed however that this is a major problem in other European nations and we have seen it be a problem elsewhere around the globe too.

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