Legislation is often reactionary.
Something terrible happens, and suddenly, we get a legislative response. Often that’s accompanied by people questioning why the event even happened.
In the case of match-fixing in Canada, it is already happening. It’s happened for decades, and it will continue to happen—unless we do something different.
Now is a great time to talk about match-fixing. Canada recently opened up its betting market to allow single-game wagers. And Ontario has gone full gangbusters, opening a private online casino and sportsbook market.
We should have talked about it in the 80s, but…
So here we are. Post-haste.
Not the first call for action on match-fixing
The lack of direct regulation enabling Canadian law enforcement to go after match-fixers is a national shame.
Match-fixing is a global plague. Good match-fixers operate virtually unabated across the globe, fixing games and moving on. A good haul from a fixed game could move millions into the accounts of a fixer with robust resources. The top fixers often go years without being stopped.
Eventually, however most trip up, not spreading their money thin enough, or someone speaks up. Sometimes it’s even good old-fashioned police work that gets to the bottom of things; others, law enforcement gets lucky.
But to me, one thing is clear, match-fixing happens. Some organizations are more vulnerable to it—amateur organizations like the National Collegiate Athletic Association or low-level pro leagues are especially so. Although players may effectively play for room and board and some beer money, many amateur clubs still have big money wagered on their games. So a fix, if you go there, can be incredibly lucrative.
Big salaries are not the solution
One only needs to look at European soccer to see even million-dollar salaries don’t stop match-fixers from getting their talons into athletes. Most topflight leagues in Europe have experienced a match-fixing scandal in the last 30 years.
The NBA had a betting scandal (whether match-fixing happened is a matter of some debate, though the NBA insists it did not), which demonstrated the vulnerabilities of North American leagues. The Donaghy scandal (NBA) also clarified that players are not the only area of concern.
Match-fixing is bigger than bribery
Match-fixing is an umbrella term. In reality, it incorporates many activities, although the common theme is that people suffer when it happens.
In a regulated sports betting market, there is an expectation that events will occur under fair, agreed-upon conditions. Most importantly is the expectation the results are not pre-determined.
While smart match-fixers don’t bet in regulated markets, we rely on regulated markets to set the standards. Regulated markets (should) create sets of rules and guidelines that enable the prosecution of match-fixing.
Canada should know better
Canadian sport has not been immune to match-fixing, making it puzzling that there is little interest in passing laws to protect people.
In the 2010s, the Canadian Soccer League had become a cesspool of match-fixing. A report from the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport claimed as many as 42 percent of the league’s games had some manipulation. On that scale, one would expect a match-fixing scandal would end in perp walks and public trials.
But one would be wrong.
Similarly, a white paper and conference devoted to match-fixing in 2019 did little to change things. Despite all the enthusiasm for single-game betting, there has been little action to address the elephant in the room, that Canadian law might not prohibit match-fixing.
According to Canadian law, match-fixing isn’t explicitly a crime
The CCES noted in 2021, as I did back in 2017, and Professor Declan Hill did in at least 2010, that it is not clear that Canadian law views match-fixing as a crime.
Canada has a Criminal Code provision that deals with gambling-related fraud. There are even strategies (built around other charges) that an ambitious and motivated crown attorney could use. But, to date, that hasn’t happened.
It is non-sensical that there is not more of an effort to modernize the ancillary laws to help ensure the betting market is fair to all.
Now is the time for Canada’s elected officials to get to work and pass legislation that clearly prohibits match-fixing. New laws will provide law enforcement with the resources necessary to protect Canadian people and sport.
Eventually, failure to do so will result in new scandals as history repeats.
We have already faced match-fixing failures in Canada. Parliament must act before we fail again.