The action by the Belgian Federal prosecutor, the scope and the seriousness of it proof the need for enhancing the fight against manipulation of sport events.

By Philippe Vlaemminck and Justine Van den Bon pharumlegal EU lawyers

The current investigations in the Belgian football world point to the crux of the matter. The allegations of fraud and manipulation of sport events sent shockwaves through the sports world. It is important to note that manipulation of sports competitions is not only taking place in football, but also in other sports like tennis, basketball or volleyball.

At international level, the Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions (“Macolin Convention”) is said to be the first legally binding tool to fight the manipulation of sports. According to Article 1 it has two main objectives: (i) to prevent, detect and sanction national or transnational manipulation of national and international sports competitions, and (ii) to promote national and international co-operation against manipulation of sports competitions between the public authorities concerned, as well as with organisations involved in sports and in sports betting. All stakeholders and member states are thus encouraged to take appropriate measures, including legislative measures.

The Macolin Convention was opened for signature at the 13th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Sport in Magglingen, Switzerland, on 18 September 2014. But while most Council of Europe member states have signed the convention, it has only been ratified by three to date. Ratification by five signatory countries is needed in order for the convention to enter into force Also the European Union could join, but this is blocked at Council level.

On 24-25 September 2018, a 3rd International Conference on the fight against the manipulation of sports competitions was held in Strasbourg outlining a concrete set of priorities. The priorities identified are the development of National Platforms as well as the development of mutualised mechanisms rendering platforms more efficient at national level and better coordinated at transnational level. All interventions during this conference also highlighted the necessity of the imminent entry into force of the Macolin Convention. A stronger cooperation between platforms has been agreed by the so-called Copenhagen Group.

Even though Belgium did not yet ratify the convention, it has set up an informal national platform to respond to problems of manipulation of sport events. Anyone who gets familiar with facts suggesting a match was (or will be) manipulated can report it to the national platform while anonymity is guaranteed.

The Belgian national platform is an informal cooperation mechanism between the federal government, the three communities, the federal prosecutor’s office, the federal police, the gaming commission, the national lottery and a number of important sports federations, including the Belgian Football Association and the BOIC. Its goal is to improve the information for all actors for them to be able to choose the most appropriate intervention to combat manipulation of sport events. The platform plays a preventive and educational role.

The objectives are excellent, but the lack of formal legal structure does limit the potential and competence of development binding codes and strict governance rules.

If Belgium wants to respond adequately to the potential manipulation of sports competitions, the setting up of this national platform as contact point without legal personality will however not be enough. The actions undertaken by the Federal prosecutor proves the seriousness of the problems and the need for a stronger governmental policy with adequate resources and means. The current situation is maybe the right time for Belgium to ratify as soon as possible the Macolin Convention.