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 of aspect of the contest), the integrity of sport is lost and with it a large part of its meaning and appeal for fans.

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.

Definitions

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.

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

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.

A number of sports at international and national level have set up their own integrity teams. Perhaps the most widely known one is the Tennis Integrity Unit (2008), established as a joint initiative between the International Tennis Federation, the ATP, the WTA and the Grand Slam Board. The Tennis Integrity Unit operates independently, receiving most of its alerts from regulatory commissions and betting companies. It has powers to investigate and to impose sanctions.

In 2017, the Athletics Integrity Unit was set up. Like the Tennis Integrity Unit, it also operates independently from the international federation with delegated authority.

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.

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
  2. The Council of Europe Convention has already had a positive impact but formal ratification and implementation would accelerate progress in several priority areas
  3. 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.
  4. 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 and evolve as the technology and understanding of the risks develop.
  5. 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.
  6. The gambling industry will need to pay a significant share of the costs of tacking 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 December 2018.

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