Minister for Sport Murray McCully's Crimes (Match-fixing) Amendment Bill, which was introduced this month, specifically makes match-fixing (that is, any act or omission done with intent to influence a betting outcome of a sporting competition or dog race other than for tactical or strategic sporting reasons) a criminal offence.
Improperly influencing the overall result or any part of a sports match, game, race or event for financial or personal benefit, rather than for tactical sporting reasons, is anathema to the Kiwi sporting ethos. Sadly, some prominent Kiwi sportsmen are being investigated for letting the side down.
The Government plans to have the bill in force in time to "help to address match-fixing risks presented by New Zealand's hosting of the Cricket World Cup and the Fifa Under-20 (football) World Cup". These events will happen over February-March and May-June 2015 respectively. The bill itself has a current intended commencement date of December 15 this year, but in my view, that should be brought forward and the bill enacted by Parliament under urgency before the House rises at the end of July. This sends the right signal about New Zealand's commitment to fight match-fixing.
As the New Zealand Policy on Sports Match-Fixing and Related Corruption, released earlier this month by the minister, says, "the emergence of match-fixing would present a significant threat to the integrity, value and growth of New Zealand sport and our international reputation. Match-fixing cuts at the heart of sport, which is based on mutually agreed rules and fair play."
In the policy, the Department of Internal Affairs, Sport New Zealand, the New Zealand Racing Board, the Ministry of Justice, the Organised and Financial Crime Agency New Zealand and the Serious Fraud Office all agree to "collaborate to ensure that there is a strong legislative and regulatory framework in place to prevent and address match-fixing".
While the Racing Board's betting rules permit it to cancel sports bets if it considers there is or may be a risk of corrupt betting, and to monitor betting to prevent corruption, those rules apply only to betting conducted in New Zealand with the Racing Board. Similarly, while match-fixing may be an offence under the Crimes Act or the Secret Commissions Act, there is no explicit provision prohibiting match-fixing and, to date, no New Zealand prosecutions. Nor is it explicitly prohibited in our Gambling Act or Racing Act.
The match-fixing policy is a great start. It requires all New Zealand sports organisations to take measures to prevent match-fixing and to ensure information sharing between all stakeholders to stamp out the practice. But as the policy says, it does not create any legally binding obligations on national sports organisations.
While the Racing Board has some leverage to bring national sports organisations into compliance, because you can't legally bet on a sport in New Zealand without the agreement of the organisation and the Racing Board, the easy accessibility of technically illegal but popular online betting sites means there remains a risk of match-fixing in New Zealand.
If it were not already an offence to conduct fraudulent transactions on the financial markets and cheat people out of their money using inside information, we would expect any Government to rapidly move to prohibit such conduct and jail fraudsters who engaged in it. Similar sanctions ought to apply to those who engage in similar conduct on the New Zealand sporting field at the behest of shadowy offshore bookies.
New Zealand is rightly proud of its rating as one of the world's least corrupt countries, but the allegations around some of its former cricketers remind us that we must always be vigilant in preventing corruption and anticipating where it may arise. It only takes a couple of players to drop the baton and it's game over.
The Policy on Sports Match-Fixing and Related Corruption is a good move and an affirmation of our stance against corruption in sport. But it now needs to be followed up with strong legislative action to stamp out match-fixing before it becomes established in New Zealand. The bill is an excellent step along that path, but it should be enacted sooner.
Mai Chen is a partner at Chen Palmer, public and employment law specialists.