Corruption in Sport – Lessons Learnt

Written by Simone Jones on Thursday January 28, 2016

2015 proved a busy year for corruption scandals in sport, arrests and resignations of FIFA officials and allegations of cover ups of doping in athletics have shocked many.

So maybe 2016 will offer some respite to weary folks? Not so far.

From Ancient Greece to Modern Day

The BBC and BuzzFeed News reported on suspected match-fixing in tennis, and not mid-ranking professionals who may be in need of some additional income - Grand Slam title winners are the focus of these allegations.  

Match fixing is not new, dating back to the ancient Olympics. Back then athletes could face severe punishments including public whippings. Fines were also imposed though, with some of the money used to erect bronze statues around the stadium. Apparently there were 16 statues in total, highlighting that corruption and sport have (unfortunately) always been linked.

Transparency International published a report on their website investigating why sport is losing the war to match fixers. Modern day match fixing is being spurred on by the global gambling market, where previously you may not have been able to bet on lower leagues or sports from around the world, today you can gamble on most sporting events.

The figures in this report are quite astonishing, in the last five years over 1,000 sporting events have been fixed. But is this something that we should be concerned about?

Match Fixing – is it really hurting anyone?

Match fixing may be one of those crimes where the victim isn’t obviously apparent. But criminals and organised crime are getting in on the action, the online betting markets is reportedly worth $700 billion and is seen as a low-risk criminal venture with high returns.   

And it’s not just the risk of organised crime. These scandals reminded me of a quote:

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

Nelson Mandela, Laureus World Sports Awards, Monaco, 2000

As sport is such an integral and important part of so many people’s lives, the question has to be asked of what example is being given to younger participants if this behaviour is allowed to continue and go unpunished?

What are some of the lessons that can be learnt?

It seems that sport has a long way to go to clean up its image, so here are   three key lessons that other organisations can take away from this insight?

  1. Culture

It is paramount to all firms that the message from the top of the organisation sets the right example. Senior management should ensure the firm and its employees are acting with integrity and carrying out business in a fair, honest and open manner.  

  1. Robust investigation procedures

Any allegations of bribery and corruption in an organisation or third party business partners should be handled appropriately, with clear escalation processes in place. A whistleblowing process which allows for confidentiality is good practice, ensuring that any concerns are handled and investigated appropriately.

  1. Assessing corruption risk

Corruption risk does not only come from internal sources. Corruption is subject to specific extraterritorial legislation from the UK & US, but is often predicate offence for money laundering too - so any suspicions that this activity is/has taken place must be investigated and reported to the appropriate authorities.

We all need to make sure this stays in focus, as unless we continue to highlight the issues, there is no impetus for change.

By the way - Bloomberg Business  recently reported that Switzerland’s Attorney General  received 133 suspicious activity reports from its anti-money laundering office, all relating to the awarding of the next 2018 and 2022 football World Cups to Russia and Qatar by FIFA officials. Could that be the next headline? We’ll see….


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