A former professional football player, Delroy Facey, has been convicted and imprisoned for offences under the UK Bribery Act. The BBC reports the conviction and sentence here.

If you love sport it’s a sad story. Facey was a decent striker who, at one time, was considered good enough to play for Bolton Wanderers, then in the Premier League. He made 10 appearances for Bolton. However, his star faded early and he went through a litany of lower-league clubs via a series of loans or releases (West Brom, Huddersfield, Tranmere, Notts County, Lincoln City) until ending up at non-league Albion Sports.

At some point, Facey became a football agent. He fell into a relationship with a group who wanted to fix matches in order to profit from betting markets. Facey and another footballer were to identify players amenable to being bribed. Unfortunately for the fixers, the National Crime Agency had been tipped off and surveillance revealed powerful evidence of a conspiracy to pay off players in lower-league matches, so that certain results could be achieved.

This is now the fourth Bribery Act conviction since the Act came into force in 2011. All but one so far have been domestic cases prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service, rather than the Serious Fraud Office. The SFO has had one success, the conviction of directors of Sustainable Agro Energy, which was in essence a tack-on to a more traditional boiler-room fraud case. It’s fashionable to suggest the SFO is failing because it has not yet achieved a major bribery conviction. However, cases such as Facey are much, much easier to investigate and prosecute than the complex international corruption schemes which are the SFO’s turf. The SFO has had some recent success in corporate corruption cases, though these were charged under the old law – see our briefing on this in February. We expect more significant cases to reach the courts, or be settled, soon.

The sentencing was illuminating. Jail was inevitable, and the judge used strong language about bribery as a cancer endangering football. However, the sentences did not even approach the statutory maximum of 10 years. The ringleaders, Krishna Ganeshan and Singapore national Chann Sankaran, received five years. Facey, a willing co-operator, though not perhaps the overall instigator of the scheme, received two-and-a-half years. It seems as though only a very big-money case, with significant aggravating features, will take sentences to eight or nine years.

A few other points of interest: The charge was conspiracy to commit bribery rather than bribery itself. On a charge of conspiracy, it is sufficient to show an agreement to bribe someone, rather than to prove the plan was successful.

One can see why the conspiracy route was preferred because proving a specific match was fixed is likely to be difficult. Each team has 11 players on the pitch at one time, and about 25 in a season’s squad. Not all will be corruptible; indeed, most will be dead-against throwing a match. There is the opposition team to take account of, as well as the officials. The conspirators seemed to be working on a theory that even a few willing accomplices would significantly improve the chances of a particular result. It’s possible that a few mis-placed passes, goalkeeping errors or misses from three yards would not be too obvious and might make all the difference. To a football fan, this will all be rather disheartening. It’s bad enough for fans to realise that a player is “having a shocker”, but few will want to even suspect that he is doing so deliberately.

Are other such cases likely? The answer, unfortunately, is “yes”. As has been seen with other sports such as cricket, the immense amount of money at stake in betting markets is a powerful incentive, and most sports-people’s finances are very distant from the millionaires of the Premier League.

What would have happened if Delroy Facey had scored a few more goals at Bolton, transferred to another PL club and joined the game’s elite? Of course no one knows. It’s reasonable to speculate that he would have rejected offers of easy money; indeed, he probably never would have even been approached. But someone else almost certainly would have been, and a similar conspiracy would have happened sooner or later.

It’s incumbent on the governing bodies of football and other sports – the owners, players and the media – to be more aware of corruption and be pro-active in rooting it out. The view that “it couldn’t happen here” is out of date.  If those with power fail to act, the cancer of corruption will develop, destroying the integrity of the game for fans and subscribers, and doing enormous harm.