Match fixing, betting and gambling corruption in sport

What is the issue?

Sport consists of a contest between individuals or teams who agree to compete by the same rules. The uncertainty of the outcome is an essential part of sport’s attraction, separating it from arts and other entertainment.

If the result is pre-determined (or at least one aspect of the contest), the integrity of sport is lost and with it a large part of its meaning and appeal for fans, broadcasters and sponsors.

Match-fixing is therefore a major threat to sport. There are two different motives for match-fixing, both with ancient origins. Firstly, sport may be fixed for sporting reasons: bribes may be paid or other inducements offered to encourage one individual or team to lose a particular contest. Secondly, people may try to make money through gambling on a contest in which they know the outcome before it takes place because they have fixed the result.

Many people believe that the advent of online gambling has increased the risk of match-fixing for financial gain. It is possible to bet from one country on a minor league in a far-off land. The huge scale of the global gambling industry (legal and illegal) is attractive to organised crime and the range of the types of bets available potentially increases the value of inside information. Globalisation also plays a role – criminals seeking to fix matches can connect and meet with athletes, coaches and officials from all over the world.

COVID-19 heightened the risk of manipulation across all sports according to a combined warning in 2020 from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and INTERPOL. The pandemic’s impact on revenue and financing made participants more vulnerable.

Also in 2020 EUROPOL said criminal groups remained highly motivated to benefit from match- and spot-fixing. It estimated that the global annual criminal proceeds from betting-related match fixing were €120million.

The size of the global betting market for all sports is estimated to be €1.69 trillion per year. Football is estimated to make up more than 60% of this market. 65% of the overall betting turnover is recorded with Asian bookmakers (including both black and grey markets).


The Council of Europe Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions (2014) defines the manipulation of sports competitions as:

“An intentional arrangement, act or omission aimed at an improper alteration of the result or the course of a sports competition in order to remove all or part of the unpredictable nature of the aforementioned sports competition with a view to obtaining an undue advantage for oneself or for others.”

The definition therefore encompasses efforts to alter the course of an event (so-called “spot fixing”) as well as the overall result. Both match-fixing for sporting reasons and for financial gain are included.

Spot-fixing came to prominence in cricket. Corruptors recognised the potential for significant betting gains by manipulating odds on the vast and unregulated Indian betting industry.

It has led to confusion about the precise nature of match-fixing in cricket with many erroneously believing bets can be placed on obscure events occurring. In fact those pre-arranged events (or inside information) can be used to profit on the outcome of the match, or match odds, over a short period of time.

The common denominator between the two ‘scams’ is an illegal, unregulated betting market. In regulated, legal betting markets such corruption rarely occurs because these industries have an early warning system in place to raise an alert about suspicious betting activity, personal details of the bettor and relationships with law enforcement.

Another form of spot-fixing which legal industries are able to act quickly on is bets placed on inside information on what will occur off-the-field. This is prevalent in football. It concerns markets such as ‘Player A’s next club’ or ‘Next Manager of Club B’.

Along with other sports federations, FIFA prohibits players, referees, officials, agents and intermediaries from placing a bet on any football match in the world. An updated 11-point code published in 2021 reminded participants of the ‘no betting or manipulation’ rules.

The status of match manipulation in law is a complex issue and varies by country.

In the UK, fraud has been added to the list of criminal offences within the Gambling Act 2005. The act also introduced the offence ‘cheating at gambling’. Both are used to prosecute match-fixers outside the jurisdiction of sporting governing bodies.

The appetite for criminal proceedings, however, is questionable. There have been a number of high-profile failures to find players/athletes guilty in the law courts for match-fixing and with justice system resources stretched, there has been more onus on sporting bodies to have robust regulations and investigative ability.

What is the response?

While match-fixing scandals date back to the earliest days of sport, the current focus on tackling the threat of match-fixing dates back to the years soon after 2000 with high-profile cases in sports including football, cricket and tennis.

The IOC now has its own strategy in place for the prevention of manipulation of competitions, based on three pillars:
a) regulations and legislation
b) awareness raising and capacity building
c) intelligence and investigations.

The IOC’s Agenda 2020+5 states: “Implementation of monitoring and protection needs to increase…with priority given to strengthening awareness-raising for athletes, their entourage and sports officials, including judges and referees.”

It states that the risk has “increased” and highlights the need for strengthening regulations in conjunction with INTERPOL and the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, more education for athletes, staff and officials and to encourage international federations (IFs) to enhance refereeing and judging systems.

The IOC reports that IFs now comply with the Olympic Movement Code on the Prevention of Manipulation of Competition, which was approved by the IOC in 2015.

The International Cricket Council’s anti-corruption unit was one of the first in the world when it was set up in 2000.

In 2021 the International Tennis Integrity Unit was revamped after a review of the sport’s anti-corruption protocols, structures and resources. The ITIU is independent.

Several other sports federations have now established integrity units, including World Athletics.

The threat of match manipulation has also been recognised by governments and international institutions.

An example of a response at national level is the Sports Betting Group, established in the UK by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The Group brings together representatives from across sport to provide leadership and to share good practice to address the risks from sports betting corruption. It has published a Code of Practice for governing bodies.

The Council of Europe Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions (2014) contains detailed measures to be implemented by member states both within Europe and potentially beyond. The Convention deals with prevention, detection, and sanctioning of match manipulation in relation to sports competitions. It aims to enhance the exchange of information as well as collaboration among national and international authorities concerned, sports organisations, and other relevant actors such as bookmakers. While the Convention was adopted in 2014, the process of ratification is taking some time.

In 2015, the IOC adopted the Olympic Movement Code on the Prevention of the Manipulation of Competitions. The purpose of the Code is to define and harmonise match manipulation standards, disciplinary procedures and sanctions, across National Olympic Committees, International Federations, their members, and other IOC recognised organisations. The Code is compliant with the Council of Europe Convention.

A small industry has developed to provide services to sports bodies to help them reduce the risk of match manipulation. For example, organisations such as Sportradar and Genius Sports provide monitoring, prevention and education services to sports rights-holders and public authorities.

There has also been recognition that the format of sporting competitions should be adjusted to ensure that they do not unintentionally incentivise match manipulation. As an example, the risk of round-robin formats in some sports competitions is now well understood, where an individual or team may prefer to lose or draw the final game to secure a specific match-up in the next round. Integrity investigators have also expressed concern about ‘dead rubber’ matches being particularly vulnerable to manipulation.

I Trust Sport view

Match-fixing corruption in sport related to gambling is a fundamental, worldwide threat to the future of professional sport. While the issue of match-fixing is acknowledged throughout the sports movement and new education programmes and other measures have sprung up, there is still much work to be done.

I Trust Sport believes that these are some of the current priorities for tackling match manipulation:

  1. More international co-operation and information sharing is needed between governments, law enforcement, sports bodies and the gambling industry. An integrity unit working closely, for example, with law enforcement can cut manipulation at source by identifying corruptors before they access players.
  2. General good governance is an important component of fight against match-fixing, whether motivated by gambling or sporting objectives. For example, if players are paid on time it reduces the vulnerability of athletes to approaches by potential fixers. Similarly, sports competitions can be structured in such a way that they do not incentivise losing or under-performing.
  3. Monitoring is now in place in most major leagues and sports to check for suspicious betting patterns, particularly in high-risk sports such as football, cricket and tennis. It should continue to evolve and integrity units should be encouraged to use the data to be proactive in investigations.
  4. The legal status of the corruption of sports results varies considerably by market, making prosecutions difficult, especially across borders. The ultimate goal should be harmonising legislation.
  5. Exploration of legalising illegal betting markets. A legal market has a ‘paper trail’ for every bet wagered, a system to shut down markets as soon as an irregular betting pattern is spotted and law-enforcement relationships.
  6. All stakeholders to be alert to the changing nature of manipulation. It is not just players/athletes who are vulnerable as referenced by IOC Agenda 2020+5. And the changing methods with which corruptors use to make contact (social media) and finance (crypto currency).
  7. The gambling industry may need to pay a significant share of the costs of tackling match-fixing. There is an argument for reallocating a portion of the taxes which betting companies already pay, at least in some markets.

Please note that this is a summary of a complex topic and is not intended to be fully comprehensive. Feel free to contact us with any comments on the material above.

See also I Trust Sport’s resources page.

Updated January 2022.

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