The Badminton World Federation (BWF) has handed out 20 and 15 year suspensions to two leading players after finding them guilty of match fixing.

Badminton has been hit by a few scandals before, with one of the most well-known names in the sport, Lee Chong Wei, banned for eight months for doping in 2014. Yet this recent decision is the first time the Ethics Hearing Panel has been referred a case on match fixing.

Undoubtedly the BWF have made an example of the two Malaysian players involved, delivering career-ending bans.

Zulfadli Zulkiffli received a 20-year suspension from playing badminton and from performing any function within the sport together with a fine of USD 25,000. Tan Chun Seang received a 15-year suspension from badminton, from performing any function within the sport and a fine of USD 15,000.

Tan was found to have committed 26 violations of the BWF’s 2012 Code of Conduct in relation to Betting Wagering and Irregular Match Results (2012 Code) which applied at the time of the offences. Zulfadli was found to have committed 27 violations of the 2012 Code and four violations of the 2016 Code of Conduct in relation to Betting Wagering and Irregular Match Results (2016 Code).

Taking the more recent 2016 Code by way of example, the following are considered offences (Covered Person includes any player who enters or participates in any badminton competition, event or activity organised or sanctioned by the BWF or any governing body. It also includes coaches and management representatives):

3.2.10: No Covered Person shall, directly or indirectly, offer or provide any money, benefit or Consideration to any other Covered Person with the intention of negatively influencing a Player’s best efforts in any Event.

3.2.12: No Covered Person shall, directly or indirectly, offer or provide any money, benefit or Consideration to any other Covered Person for the provision of any Inside Information.

3.2.15: No Covered Person shall, directly or indirectly, contrive or attempt to contrive the outcome or any other aspect of any Event.

3.2.17: Any Player not reporting to the BWF at the first available opportunity, an approach by a person who offers or provides any type of money, benefit or Consideration to a Player to (i) influence the outcome or any aspect of any Event, or (ii) provide Inside Information.

The decision made by the Panel considered both players’ involvement in a number of BWF Grand Prix and Grand Prix Gold tournaments, spanning from 2013 to 2016. In reaching their decision, the Panel relied upon witness statements (including from the whistle-blower who first approached the BWF with the allegations) and interviews with the two sanctioned players. However, it seems that the Panel’s evidence was largely based upon WhatsApp conversations between the two players.

Under the 2016 Code, if the BWF believes a player may have committed a corruption offence, it may demand that the player hands over:

6.1.8: …any information or equipment or device holding such information regarding the alleged Corruption Offence, including, without limitation, records relating to the alleged Corruption Offence (including, without limitation, itemized telephone billing statements, text of SMS messages received and sent, Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts, banking statements, betting records, internet service records, mobile devices and tablets, computers, hard drives…

Zulfadli’s mobile phone was requested at the end of his interview. The Panel acknowledged this did not satisfy the definition of ‘Demand’ under Article 6.1.8 of the 2016 Code and that Zulfadli could have refused the request and required the BWF to make a formal ‘Demand’. This would have bought him some time as the 2016 Code requires any ‘Demand’ to be provided to the BWF after seven business days.

The conversations between the players show them to discuss fixing matches and the points scored to make money from betting. Extracts can be seen below:

Conversation 9 October 2013

ZZ : I was just about to hit a jackpot, and make some extra money

TCS : Hahaha

ZZ : If that is the case, I will just fight then

TCS : If you play a straight set, you will get 15K right? Okay Okay

ZZ : It’s 3 sets actually. If [I/U] make points, then [I/U] will only get 10K

TCS : If that’s the case, just fight for 3 sets

ZZ : But with 17 and 17 of course

TCS : I see…Okay

Conversation 2 November 2013

TCS : You will get your cash immediately upon your return from Korea

ZZ : Can you bank-in to me instead? Haha

TCS : Sure. But my only concern is that the Inland Revenue Board (IRB) might be able to

detect it. But if you are willing to take the risk, then we can just bank-in the money to

you. Hehe

ZZ : Okay Okay. If there is anything else, we will just discuss it in Korea. Haha. Mate, promise me not to reveal this to anyone else

TCS : Of course, mate. Don’t ever tell anyone that I assisted you on this. Just act normal

ZZ : Of course, I won’t. And you too. Don’t tell anyone that I did this. Haha. Keep it just between 2 of us.

Yet by denying their wrongdoing, the players disputed this evidence and claimed that the WhatsApp conversations were about sponsorship deals and betting at a casino. Given the wealth of evidence obtained from WhatsApp conversations, the Panel did not believe this.

Both players have the right to appeal under Clause 14 of the BWF Judicial Procedures provided it is made within 21 days of receipt of the decision.

Setting an example

As the first example of a case of this type before the Panel, it was unable to consider decisions made previously by their peers when determining the appropriate sanction. The Panel therefore turned to decisions made by the CAS in similar cases and drew upon obiter in cases such as CAS 2010/A/2172 Oleg Oriekhov v UEFA.

 “The very essence of sport is that competition is fair; its attraction to spectators is the unpredictability of the outcome…it is therefore essential in the Panel’s view for sporting regulators to demonstrate zero-tolerance against all kinds of corruption and to impose sanctions sufficient to serve as an effective deterrent to people who might otherwise be tempted through greed or fear to consider involvement in such criminal activities”.

And so, let this sanction be a warning to badminton players and coaches. For the likes of 25-year-old Zulfadli, this decision leaves him with no remaining badminton career. Essentially the Panel do not want him associated with the sport again.

This decision from the BWF is harsh. But is it too harsh?

Opinions aside, the Panel’s message to those engaging in match fixing has been delivered loud and clear.