However, it nearly all came crashing down for Starkov due to a competition manipulation violation. What happened? He placed a bet on a Danish league match between Esbjerg and Rungsted on 3 January 2014.
Other teammates of his were implicated in the scandal. Starkov felt guilty and concerned about the potential consequences. It was time to say something, but it was a tough road ahead.
“After coming forward to the authorities, I was fined, fired from my league team and suspended from the national team,” Starkov recalled. It was a career setback to not play in the Danish national championship or the IIHF World Championship. He also suffered financial and reputational damage extending beyond the five-game suspension and 12,000 Danish kroner-fine that the league levied.
Competition manipulation is a serious matter. It undermines the exciting, unpredictable character of hockey games. It is a form of cheating. It also opens the game to abuse by gamblers. That is why it is strictly prohibited for players, coaches, officials, and anyone else involved in games.
In fact, the maximum penalty for competition manipulation in hockey is a lifetime ban from the sport. It’s vital to be aware of the IIHF’s Integrity rules in this area. See the IIHF Competition Manipulation Code for more details.
If you are a young player in another country, perhaps you think of Starkov’s situation as remote and having nothing to do with you. Think again. The temptation to engage in competition manipulation can confront any player.
And hockey is a small world. Starkov’s background extends well beyond Denmark and Russia.
To illustrate, in 2006-07, Starkov was the top goal-scorer for the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. He had his share of noteworthy teammates. They included World Junior and future NHL mainstays like Czechia’s Martin Hanzal and Canada’s Brandon Sutter, not to mention Pierre-Paul Lamoureux, the brother of U.S. national women’s team legends Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux.
Today, Starkov is semi-retired and coaching youth players in Switzerland. The former Frolunda HC prospect and sixth-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets (2005) hopes that others can learn from his mistakes.
As either a player or another member of a hockey organization, betting on hockey is just one type of competition manipulation to avoid. Here are some more examples.
First, match-fixing is forbidden, whether it’s a skater who deliberately plays sub-par hockey or a netminder who allows goals on purpose. The IIHF specifies: “A player, official and/or player support personnel cannot fix an ice hockey game by engaging in behaviour which is aimed at the improper alteration of the ice hockey game.”
Second, sharing inside information – such as purely confidential matters related to team tactics or injuries – with outsiders is also forbidden.
Third, reporting is required if you detect any suspicious behavior related to competition manipulation.
Competition manipulation has plagued many sports. In the 2010’s alone, match-fixing scandals damaged the reputations of football leagues in Italy and South Korea and cricket leagues in India and Pakistan. Heavy fines and multi-year bans from these sports were handed out.
The lesson? Hockey is not immune. We must pull together, work hard, and remain vigilant to keep competition manipulation out of our sport.
That’s especially important when your game isn’t panning out the way you’d like. Prior to his transgression, Starkov had performed below his expectations in North America, Russia, and Sweden, and had sought solace in gambling on football.
“Once you get into this negative spiral of emotions and the game that you play on the ice doesn’t maybe work out the way you dream of, you may be put on the bench or you don't feel you belong on the team,” Starkov explained. “Now, you can kind of fake your way into belonging to a team. But if we feel we don’t belong, we rebel against ourselves, and we don’t know in what direction to point our emotions.”
According to Starkov, feeling like you’re valued by a coach as a person as well as an on-ice performer is important. So is not putting too much pressure on young teenagers to achieve superstardom. And with the widespread influence of gambling ads, players have to guard against being influenced to bet and engage in competition manipulation.
Starkov has a clear message: “If you see something wrong or you see somebody doing something that breaks the integrity rules of the game, and most importantly, your own integrity that you believe in, don't be scared to say: ‘Stop.’ Stand up for your own integrity and say: ‘This is wrong.’ Protect the game. Protect the sport of hockey.”
The IIHF’s aim is to make hockey the cleanest sport in the world. The IIHF, in partnership with our Member National Associations (MNAs), is committed to investigating all incidents related to competition manipulation and any violations that are reported in a transparent and fair manner. Confidentiality, impartiality, respect, and integrity are our watchwords.
Remember: if you hear something, if you see something – say something.
Incidents can be reported via:
IIHF Reporting Form
Email: [email protected]
The IOC hotline: ioc.integrityline.org
Mail to IIHF headquarters: Brandschenkestrasse 50, Postfach 1817, 8027 Zurich, Switzerland
Anonymous reporting is possible.
For reports with an international dimension, the IIHF creates a case that is forwarded to the independent IIHF Ethics Board. The board weighs the preponderance of evidence and decides whether or not to refer the case to the IIHF Disciplinary Board. Appeals can only be made to CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) directly.