By Vivian Wilson – Thompson Rivers University JD Student
In Nepal, five soccer players have been charged with treason over allegedly participating in match-fixing several soccer games, including the 2011 World Cup qualifiers. The accused players include Nepal team captain, Sagar Thapa, goalkeeper, Ritesh Thapa, along with Sandip Rai, Bikash Singh, and coach Anjan K.C.. A sixth accused, the team’s physiotherapist, who was not arrested is now deemed to be a fugitive. They are accused of taking money from bookmakers in Singapore and Malaysia in exchange for losing games. The players were found with large sums of money in their bank accounts, which authorities believe was provided by these bookmakers. The police have seized the players’ financial information as evidence.
The Nepal Government is seeking to impose a life sentence on the athletes as punishment under a 1989 act that states that anyone “unlawfully jeopardizing Nepal’s sovereignty, integrity, or national unity, shall be liable for life imprisonment.”
Is match-fixing a sufficiently serious offence as to warrant sentencing the accused to life in prison? In lieu of specific match-fixing laws, Nepal is dealing with this issue under the charge of treason. The magnitude of the offense in Nepal is striking when compared with North American countries, some of which also lack laws that explicitly deal with match-fixing.
According to an International Olympic Committee study, Canada does not have specific match-fixing laws, but match-fixing is most likely to be dealt with under the Criminal Code s. 380 fraud, or s. 209 cheating at play. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) suggest, in their 2013 comparative study on the applicability of criminal law provisions concerning match-fixing and illegal betting, that these criminal provisions carry quite low sanctions, as s. 380 of the Criminal Code imposes a term of imprisonment not more than fourteen years where the value of the subject matter of the offense exceeds five thousand dollars.
Match-fixing may also fall under s. 209 of the Criminal Code, Cheating at play. This offense covers people involved in defrauding others through cheating while playing a game, or holding the stakes for a game. This offense carries a sanction of imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. Therefore, even though Canada does not have any offences specifically covering match-fixing, it will likely fall under Canadian criminal law. The sanctions however are very low compared to the life term sought by Nepali prosecutors.
The United States, however, does have specific offences for match-fixing. There are federal offense of Bribery in Sporting Contest, 18 U.S.C § 224, for which the sanctions are fine and/or imprisonment of not more than five years. There are also state offenses, such as Sports Bribing, and Sports Bribe Receiving under New York State’s Penal Law. The punishments for these state offenses are fine or imprisonment of not more than seven years, and imprisonment not more than four years, respectively.
Compared to the IOC and UNODC’s suggested most likely treatment of match-fixing under Canadian law and United States law, under which the highest sanction possible is fourteen years under Canada’s fraud provision, the Nepali life sentence for treason seems extreme. The North American countries’ laws suggest that match-fixing is not seen as sufficiently serious to warrant harsh punishments, suggesting a difference in the way North American and Nepali people perceive sports, and the disparate local perception of the seriousness of the impact of corruption in sport on the country’s sovereignty, integrity and national unity.