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Sports Law - Criminalising Match-Fixing in New Zealand

The impending arrival of two large-scale international competitions to our shores in 2015 (the Cricket World Cup and FIFA Under 20 World Cup) has brought into question whether New Zealand's current legislation provides adequate tools to prosecute match-fixers. The recent revelations about former New Zealand cricketer Lou Vincent's involvement in match-fixing have only served to draw further attention to the issue.

Sport New Zealand produced the Regulatory Impact Statement – Match-Fixing Criminal Offences on 12 February 2014 ('SNZ's statement') to provide policy guidance on this issue. SNZ's statement outlined that any changes to our legislation would have to be blunt tools, given the limited timeframe available to put them in place before New Zealand's competition hosting begins. It also clarified that the statement was prepared on the assumption that our existing laws do not adequately provide for prosecution of match-fixers.

While the laws we have in place may already cover some aspects of match-fixing, there are likely to be holes in the current framework that could impair prosecution and see match-fixers escape punishment.

SNZ's statement recommended a minor amendment to the Crimes Act 1961 to explicitly cover match-fixing. Accordingly, the Crimes (Match-Fixing) Amendment Bill ('the Bill') was introduced to Parliament on 5 May 2014.

The Bill proposes an amendment to Section 240 of the Crimes Act – "Obtaining by deception or causing loss by deception." The amendment clarifies that "deception" includes an act or omission done with the intent to influence a betting outcome of an activity. The influenced activity can be the overall result, or any event within the activity. The reference to any event within an activity is particularly important for cricket, given that a lot of match-fixing in cricket relates to controlling small elements of the game, for example, the timing of an event such as a no-ball.

There is also an important exception in the Bill, which is that the act or omission in question must be done otherwise than for tactical or strategic sporting reasons. On past occasions teams in sporting competitions have considered, for example, that avoiding a bonus point would be in their best interests. They have accordingly "under-performed", in the sense that they have played within themselves in order to get the best possible result for their team. This exception appears to acknowledge a team's right to make such a choice, provided it is for tactical or sporting reasons.

The Bill has not had its first reading but given the timing pressures in place, it is expected to receive priority. The Bill anticipates a commencement date of 15 December 2014, reflecting the intent to have the amendment in place in time for the sporting events of 2015.

It will be interesting to see what amendments, if any, are made as the Bill passes through the legislative process, given that meaningful review may be hampered by the objective of having match-fixing criminalised as soon as possible. A potential difficulty for our legislators is that there is no standard international approach to matchfixing. Without a proven international example to follow, New Zealand's response may be a case of drawing a line in the sand and reacting as this issue develops.

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