Match-fixing life ban for elite football referee upheld by the CAS

        BY KEVIN CARPENTER, PRINCIPAL (@KevSportsLaw)

In November 2016, allegations of match-fixing struck at the heart of football, namely the qualifying stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. South Africa beat Senegal 2-1 with the home team having scored two controversial goals.  The first was a penalty awarded by referee Mr. Joseph Lamptey in the 41st minute for a supposed handball, which the Referee Assessor said in his report afterwards “didn’t happen”, and the second came four minutes later from a free kick which was taken from a position on the field completely different to that from where the offence had occurred.

The Senegalese were so enraged by Mr. Lamptey’s performance that they lodged an official complaint with FIFA, who then investigated the matter. It transpired that FIFA had received alerts from five internationally renowned betting operators / monitoring companies (including Genius Sports), all of whom said they strongly suspected that the match in question had been fixed given the live betting on the total goals market for the match significantly deviated from the usual expected market patterns. [para 11 of the award] Upon gathering further evidence to support these claims, FIFA then banned Mr. Lamptey from football for life, as well as ordering the match in question to be replayed.

Mr Langtry appealed his suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The decision of the CAS Panel to reject Mr. Lamptey’s appeal in its entirety, and therefore uphold the lifetime ban, was issued to the parties on 2nd August 2017, but was only released as part of a press statement by FIFA yesterday (15th January 2018).

The full award can be read here, however, there are some key takeaways for all stakeholders in sport:

  • Sports federations should seek to obtain as much information from as many sources as possible to protect the integrity of their competitions. FIFA “spontaneously, independently and simultaneously” received reports from five globally recognised specialist betting operators / monitoring companies in relation to the match in question. [para 53.ii.]
  • When there is video evidence of the suspect actions/decisions, sports federations must obtain the expert opinion(s) of those who perform a similar role to the accused participant on the field. In this case, first it was a group of 14 referee instructors and referees in the African region, who all came to the conclusion Mr Lamptey’s decision was clearly not a penalty and was a mistake. [para 15] Secondly, the refereeing department of FIFA confirmed that it was “unusual” for an elite FIFA referee to make two wrongful decisions in such a short period of time (i.e. between 41 and 45 minutes). [para 79]
  • Each sports federation should have a system in place to record and retain relevant information and intelligence. This was important in this case because, as part of its evidence, FIFA provided to the CAS Panel six additional matches Mr. Lamptey had refereed previously in which suspicions of match manipulation had arisen. [paras 15 and 88] Not only that, he had already been suspended previously for poor levels of performance, and there was statistical evidence to show that Mr. Lamptey had given a significantly higher number of penalties per match than a similar group of his referee counterparts in the African region. [para 15]
  • To successfully sustain a suspension principally on the basis of betting evidence, it is vital that both the robustness of the systems relied upon and the data itself is supported by expert evidence before a tribunal. During the hearing, FIFA put forward a number of academic and betting experts to explain the data and conclusions to the legal experts on the Panel.
  • Where the participant against whom the match-fixing charges have been proven is a match official (i.e. referee, umpire etc.), the CAS will view this as a “serious case” and a lifetime ban from the sport is highly likely to be considered proportionate, “The role of the referee is essential: the credibility of the authority of match officials, which would be jeopardized by integrity issues.” [paras 92-94]

In light of this, and other recent Awards regarding betting-related match manipulation (CAS 2015/A/4351 Vsl Pakruojo FK et al. v. Lithuanian Football Federation and CAS 2016/A/4560 Klubi Sportiv Skënderbeu v. UEFA), there is now little doubt, as stated in the Lamptey award, that the information provided by specialist betting operators / monitoring companies can now considered to be “decisive” when seeking to sustain match-fixing charges against a participant in sports disciplinary proceedings. [para 83]