A new law that criminalises offences related to sports has introduced measures to prevent persons in the betting and gaming industry from obtaining or using insider information. The Prevention of Offences relating to Sports Act was passed on Monday. It also blocks the betting and gaming industry from manipulating the outcome of a sport or [...]


Criminalising corruption in sports is a big step forward – SSG Sumathi Dharmawardena

Sri Lanka passed laws to criminalise match fixing and corruption offences

Sumathi Dharmawardena

A new law that criminalises offences related to sports has introduced measures to prevent persons in the betting and gaming industry from obtaining or using insider information.

The Prevention of Offences relating to Sports Act was passed on Monday. It also blocks the betting and gaming industry from manipulating the outcome of a sport or a sporting event by making available insider information.

Further, anyone connected to a sport who has information on any sport or sporting event—knowing such information to be inside information or information on illegal, corrupt conduct— and bets on that sport or sporting event or encourages another person to bet in a particular way or communicates such information commits the offence of match fixing in sports.

“It appears that this new law will be detrimental to betting and gaming operators who resort in to illegal activities to gain undue financial advantage by manipulating an outcome of a sport,” said Sumathi Dharmawardena, PC and Additional Solicitor General who played a key role in drafting the legislation.

Asked whether Sri Lanka should legalise betting to stop it going on unlawfully, Mr Dharmawardena said the Sports Ministry and Government should consider that aspect carefully before taking a policy decision.

“However, there is a mandatory requirement for betting operators in terms of Section 16(2) [of the Act] to inform the Secretary Ministry of Sports or Director of Sports or the unit with regard to unusual betting patterns in any betting carried out by any person,” he said.

Criminalising corruption in sports is one of the major ways to curb this menace, in addition to preventive steps, Mr Dharmawardena said.  All match fixing cases involve manipulation of the outcome of a match, tournament or a game for the purpose of illegal financial benefits and most are related to betting industry. Therefore, it will be nearly impossible to control match fixing only by conducting an inquiry and punishing a sportsman through a code of conduct of a National Sports Association or an international sports federation. Both these institutions lack authority.

“In most of the cases, there are number of persons who are outside the sports arena who are managing these criminal activities,” he observed.

“Therefore, without the cooperation of the law enforcement agencies and investigators, it is impossible to ascertain and identify the persons who are managing the match fixing operations.”

The lacuna in the legal system was used by unscrupulous persons, not only to make an illegitimate financial gain, but to destroy the spirit of the game.

The Prevention of Offences relating to Sports Act categorises offences into two. One is offences of match fixing, corruption, illegal manipulation and illegal betting in sports. These may be committed by “any person or any person connected to a sport”.

But any improper performance, act, omission or an outcome of a sport will not be an offence if it is not related to an illegal bet.

The other offences are failure to disclose information and willful obstruction of investigations. “Without criminalising match fixing, it will be an uphill task to eradicate corruption in sports,” Mr Dharmawardena said. There is also major role for media organisations to play in educating persons connected to sports to prevent fixers from intruding in to this noble game.

There are two kinds of match-fixing. Betting related match-fixing involves persons who are connected to the legal and illegal betting industry with the connivance of persons connected to sport. These include sportsmen, coaches, managers and officials of the sport’s governing body. They fix the game for illicit financial gains.

In the sporting-motivated form of match-fixing, there is less involvement of the betting industry. It is mainly for a financial benefit to the club or sports body.

Sri Lanka Cricket promulgated an anti-corruption code with effect from November 1, 2016 Other sports bodies have also enacted similar rules. The ICC has its own code to maintain a level playing field and to determine the outcome of a match solely based on merits.

Sportsmen enter into agreements with national sports associations (NSA) to prevent corrupt practices and to maintain integrity. Investigations by these NSAs are limited to internal inquiries focusing on “persons connected to sport”. They have no authority inquire into the conduct of persons outside the NSA or to carry out criminal investigations, despite match-fixing rapidly developing into a crisis in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

“The defence of sportsmen under scrutiny is that allegations against them are unreasonable, and that they were targeted for collateral and extraneous reasons without any valid reasons or objective,” Mr Dharmawardena said. This position is taken mainly due to the lacuna in proper investigations or inquiries by law enforcement agencies.

The new law now provides for a proper mechanism to conduct investigations. A special investigation unit will be set up under the Act to inquire into all types of corruption in sports, against “any persons” without limiting it to “persons connected to sport”. It will remove space for allegations that inquiries are unreasonable or vexatious.

Match-fixing is an international, multi-faceted, organised crime involving people from various jurisdictions. The Prevention of Offences Relating to Sports Act provides a two-way approach to stop corruption in sports. One is to control, educate and prevent. The other is to investigate corruption and to punish offenders through courts.

ICC Anti Corruption officers at work during a Test match between Sri Lanka and India at the SSC in Colombo

The law aspires to strengthen national and international co-operation among sports organisations, law enforcement agencies and betting operators in exchanging information relate to match-fixing, corruption and illegal manipulation. In addition, to take necessary steps to prevent the same. The Secretary, Ministry of Sports is empowered to enter in to agreements with international bodies to exchange information with regard to match fixing, illegal manipulation, illegal betting.

The Act also deal with offences of match-fixing, corruption, illegal manipulation and illegal betting in sports and has set out number of offences in this.  “This Act will deter potential match fixers due to multiple mechanisms incorporated therein,” Mr Dharmawardena said.  “Persons connected to sport” include sportsmen, umpires, curators, ground staff , trainer, officials etc.

The act introduces a special Investigation Unit (SIU) which must consist of police officers not below the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police. It will be takes with investigating any allegation of corruption in sports including match fixing.

On completion of investigations, the SIU must submit a report to the Attorney General for consideration and prosecution. “The litmus test pertaining to effectiveness of new law will depend on ability of persons appointed to SIU to discharge their duties to the utmost satisfaction to the law-abiding people of this country,” Mr Dharmawardena concluded.

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