Insider Sport brings you the second half of our exclusive two-part interview with Oliver Jaberg, FIFA’s Deputy Chief Legal & Compliance Officer and Director of Integrity & Institutional Legal, and Vincent Ven, Head of Integrity at FIFA.
Following on from part one, in this second edition we discuss the challenges faced by FIFA as the organisation collaborates with a multitude of national associations with the aim of tackling integrity on a global scale.
Midway through January reports emerged from Cyprus relating to police investigations into possible match-fixing cases within Cypriot football following notifications sent by UEFA to the Cyprus Football Association (CFA).
The notifications related to suspicious betting activity being recorded in five fixtures – Ermis Aradippou v Digenis Morphou; Onisilos Sotiras v Digenis; and Othelos Athienou v Xylotymbou plus two cup fixtures.
Due to both the recency of the case and the fact that this marks the second time in as many years for the integrity of Cypriot football to be thrown into question, we asked FIFA what measures need to be taken around the world to avoid future situations such as this.
Insider Sport: With the latest integrity push is FIFA set to become more involved regarding match-fixing cases akin to those in Spain and Cyprus as opposed to leaving it to the local governing body?
Oliver Jaberg: There is a certain reluctance to interfere with cases at national level. Having said that, FIFA’s regulatory framework, in particular the FIFA disciplinary code, provides for a provision that states that if a national governing body, for whatever reason, is not able to/does not investigate or follow up on alleged infringements of the disciplinary code, which includes match manipulation, then FIFA could intervene.
We can make sure that integrity is safeguarded, be it by collaborating with our peers at national level, or eventually as per the legal framework available, we will take care of it ourselves.
Insider Sport: As can be seen in the Cyprus case, it was the lower league competitions/players that were compromised. Is anything specific being done to focus on prevention in leagues which include potentially more vulnerable players?
Oliver Jaberg: Our message is that education and prevention is key, so the point is that once the disciplinary measures machinery starts running it’s basically already too late as the damage is done. Our focus is very much on education and prevention and also collaboration with our stakeholders, the member associations, the players, the referees, the coaches, etc, to raise awareness and prevent match manipulation.
If the damage is done then it is important for the entire football movement, be it international, continental or local level, to have the right measures, meaning stringent regulatory frameworks, independent judicial bodies, qualified personnel, in place to tackle and enforce the provisions in the current statute regarding the integrity of the game.
Insider Sport: As football becomes more globalised and the game continues to grow, how important is it that FIFA’s approach to integrity adapts to different football cultures? And can you tell us more about the challenges that are associated with implementing one programme across a multitude of national governing bodies?
Oliver Jaberg: The simple answer is that it is very important. As competitions grow they become more popular, more visible and then in turn also become what we call ‘betting relevant’. A consequence of this is that, and more so for competitions at a lower level, they may also become subjects of betting-related match manipulation unless proper measures and best practice are put in place.
To add to that in a broader context, in particular concerning the implementation of integrity programmes across MAs, we need to take into consideration that some organisations are more advanced than others in the development of their integrity programmes and this is because of many reasons, cultural yes, but also resource is an important aspect as well as historical aspects.
All of this led us to develop these new resources for member associations and confederations. As a matter of fact, also in line with FIFA 2.0 vision that was published in 2016, we are really committed to integrity standards in football. But we don’t just speak about it, we also implement specific measures. So that’s why we implemented, in particular, the integrity kit for integrity officers.
We think that handling integrity-related incidents at national level should be a priority also for our member associations, and in this context it is also important to have the support of the leadership of the national member associations in regards to implementing measures to counter match-fixing.
Different factors may be a basis for different approaches. But across all organisations, I think, football and football governing bodies have a very common interest which is to safeguard the integrity of football.
So it’s important for us to give the toolkit to our members in order to live up to and comply with this objective.
Insider Sport: Regarding the integrity toolkit. What measures can be taken to ensure that it is integrated into the culture of football and something players greatly understand and what impact can you envisage it having?
Vincent Ven: That is a very important question. We are already regularly working with our MAs and confederations and, for example, we hold workshops to share knowledge with them and to make sure they are able and have the tools to establish their own integrity initiatives.
To make sure that this toolkit is integrated, obviously it’s a challenge. But what we have done is that we directly communicated to all our MA that this toolkit is available per request; they just need to inform us of their interest and we will send them the whole toolkit. The idea is that they come to us and express their interest, ask for it, and we subsequently send it to them.
This process has already started and it’s already going back and forth. We are communicating with our MAs on a daily basis and on several occasions we already had questions about the content of the toolkit, in order to clarify certain aspects/support them and to make sure that everything is well understood.
Of course it may happen that they would like even more support, in such cases we can of course, at a certain point and under specific circumstances, go on the ground and work together with integrity officers to make sure that they understand correctly all key aspects and to support them in making the right steps to establish integrity initiatives.
Having said that, Football associations should take responsibility and the necessary measures to preserve the integrity of football at their level, however, when it comes from a global approach it becomes even more efficient. Indeed, ideally all stakeholders at national level should sit around the table and take this matter seriously.
In addition, what we also think is important is to have a legal framework internationally, but also nationally, that tackles match manipulation. In particular, it is important to have legislation in place at national level that ensures that match-fixing is actually qualified as a crime.