Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
The fight against match-fixing
EU Sport Forum
20 September 2012, Nicosia
Match-fixing is possibly the greatest threat to the integrity of sport at this moment – as a quick look at the news will immediately prove. Doping, racism and violence are big problems too and we have been addressing them together with the sport movement for a number of years. Match-fixing, however, is relatively new, at least at its current scale, and it risks destroying the confidence of the public in the values of sport.
Let me be clear. Match-fixing is no doubt as old as sporting competition itself. What is new is the scale of the phenomenon, linked to the exponential growth in sport betting, notably online betting, and the involvement of organised criminal networks in fixing matches at all levels of sporting competitions, often from very far away.
The first step in addressing match-fixing is to identify the problem on the basis of facts. As Alexandre Husting [author of EU study] just explained, we launched an independent study to examine how national legislation in the EU Member States cover cases of match-fixing.
On the basis of the results of the study, of our structured dialogue with stakeholders and of the work of the EU Expert Group on Good Governance in Sport, we have come to the conclusion that action is needed in three main areas, namely prevention, cooperation and legislation.
The importance of preventive measures to tackle match fixing is a staple of current discussions. In this respect education programmes and awareness-raising campaigns are essential to reach out to the stakeholders who are most at risk of being approached to fix a match: players, referees and match officials.
We are aware that such programmes already exist in some sports and in some countries, but we think there would be a clear EU added value in bringing together the interested parties so that they can cooperate and share good practices in this field.
EU funds can be instrumental in this respect. The fight against match-fixing and in particular actions aimed at raising awareness and educating relevant stakeholders were included as a priority theme in the 2012 Preparatory Action in the field of sport.
A call for proposals was published in April 2012, and the project proposals are currently being evaluated in view of starting implementation by the end of this year.
In addition, as from 2014, the EU will hopefully have a dedicated budget for sport. We therefore propose to concentrate part of the activities of the Sport Chapter of the "Erasmus for All" programme on the fight against international threats to sport, notably match fixing.
Match-fixing is a complex problem, and any solution will need to involve all the interested stakeholders from conception to implementation. I am referring to the sport movement, betting operators, law enforcement agencies, gambling regulators and public authorities, all of them at national, European and international levels.
I am glad that all these stakeholders have had the opportunity to meet and exchange views over the past months. The work carried out by the EU Expert Group on Good Governance in Sport has been particularly inclusive in this respect. Other processes have been launched and are continuing.
It is important not to lose momentum. This is why, as part of the Commission's Action Plan on Online Gambling, my colleague Michel Barnier will announce soon measures to strengthen cooperation among national gambling regulators to address match-fixing and related issues.
Finally, some words on legislation. Match-fixing is a form of fraud and corruption. As such, it is covered by criminal law in all the 27 EU Member States. Divergences in the way it is treated certainly exist, but according to law enforcement authorities, they do not constitute an obstacle to prosecuting cross-border cases.
It appears that embarking on a long-term harmonisation process at EU level does not need to be a priority at this stage. Focusing on concrete prevention and cooperation activities such as those I have just outlined can be more effective and deliver tangible results.
However, due to the international dimension of the problem, a comprehensive legal framework could be usefully established to help close existing legislative loopholes, strengthen cooperation and establish structures for monitoring and reviewing agreed actions.
This is why we are also cooperating with the Council of Europe. Council of Europe Sport Ministers have expressed their support for a Convention in this field. The Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers has endorsed this proposal and we understand that negotiations on the future Convention will be launched this autumn.
Such a Convention could send a powerful signal that public authorities are committed to fighting against match fixing. It would establish common pan-European standards to preserve the integrity of sport against manipulation of results.
It would also create a useful platform for pan-European cooperation by involving all the parties that need to work together: the public authorities, the sport movement and betting operators.
It is an initiative that deserves to be supported. And I believe that a united EU voice within the Council of Europe would send a strong message and give impetus to the whole process. We are currently reflecting on how the EU may be represented at the negotiating table and bring added value in this framework.
I look forward to the panel discussion and to the contributions that the distinguished speakers and the audience will bring to the debate.