By Prof Dr Steve Cornelius Sports Law Centre University of Pretoria South Africa
The wheels of justice sometimes turn slowly, but it would seem that they grind away surely and systematically at the scourge of corruption in sport.
Authorities announced that former cricket fast bowler, Pumelela Matshikwe, was sentenced in the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court for his role in a match-fixing scandal that dates back to the domestic 2015/16 RAM Slam T20 tournament in South Africa. Matshikwe received a total of ZAR50,000 (approximately US $3,000) enticement to participate in match-fixing during that tournament. He was further promised US $50,000 per fix, but he never participated in the spot fixing, apart from receiving the initial ZAR50,000 enticement, which he admitted to when the whistle was blown by other players.
Matshikwe was charged under section 15 of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act 12 of 2004 for:
In terms of section 15, the offence of corrupt activities relating to sporting events can be committed where a person is improperly induced to perform any act which constitutes a threat to or undermines the integrity of any sporting event, including, in any way, influencing the run of play or the outcome of a sporting event.
In a plea deal with the prosecutors, Matshikwe was sentenced to six years' imprisonment, with the entire sentence suspended for five years on condition that he does not engage in any other corrupt activities during that time and that he continues to support anti-corruption programmes run by Cricket South Africa (CSA). The reason for the plea deal was because Matshikwe cooperated fully with cricket authorities during the initial investigation and participated in anti-corruption programmes of CSA, which are aimed at educating other players of the risks involved. This means that Matshikwe may escape prison altogether if he behaves and continues to cooperate with CSA in their anti-corruption drive.
In addition to the criminal conviction, Matshikwe also faced disiplinary action from CSA and was banned from all cricket for ten years.
Matshikwe is the second player from that tournament to be convicted and sentenced for match-fixing. In 2019, batsman, Gulam Bodi, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for his part in the scandal. He was also banned for twelve years from all cricket related activities by CSA.
A spokesperson for the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation, commonly known as the Hawks, indicated that more arrests can be expected, but he declined to identify the players concerned. It is most likely that former international players, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Thami Tsolekile, as well as domestic players, Jean Symes and Ethy Mbhalati, are in the Hawks' cross-hairs, as these players all received lengthy bans from CSA for their involvement in the scandal.
Despite the fact that the sentence of Matshikwe is suspended, it still sends a strong message that authorities in South Africa take a grim view of corruption in sport and will not tolerate these kinds of activities. This is further underscored by the fact that, up to now, all criminal investigations relating to match-fixing in sport have been conducted by the Hawks, a specialised unit which only deals with organised crime, serious commercial crimes and serious corruption.
Despite this, there is one major concern and that is the fact that, thus far, only players and match officials have been charged under section 15.
There is yet to be a case brought against the illegal gamblers and instigators of match-fixing and their henchmen. In some respects, this aspect is complicated by the fact that the instigators are often based in foreign jurisdictions, which hampers the ability of the Hawks to investigate their involvement. However, there must clearly also be local foot soldiers who reach out to players and effect transfers of funds to corrupt those players.
Until a concerted effort is made to fight corruption and match-fixing at its roots, the problem will remain and more young players will be caught in the web of deceit.