Sports integrity (betting and corruption) – the year in review 2018/19

Published 16 May 2019 By: Louis Weston

Sports Integrity

Welcome to the sports integrity (betting and corruption) “year in review”. This article identifies and review some of the notable cases and events in the last year and discusses what trends might be drawn from them. Specifically, it looks at:

  • The three big stories:

    • Australian ball-tampering scandal;

    • The Independent Review of Tennis Integrity; and

    • Corruption in Sri Lankan cricket;

  • Other cases of note, relating to:

    • Participants; and

    • Governance;

  • New Frontiers.

Australian ball-tampering scandal

The big story in 2018/2019 for non-lawyers was the 2018 Australian ball-tampering scandal1, in which the Australian side were caught tampering with a ball in the third test match against South Africa in Cape Town. Bowler, Cameron Bancroft, was caught on camera using sandpaper to make the ball swing, and his Captain, Steve Smith, and Vice-Captain, David Warner, were both found to have been involved in the plan. The fall out was Dan Lehman resigned, and the players all received 12 months bans from selection for the national side and a ban of 12 months for Smith and Warner and 9 months for Bancroft from all international and domestic cricket. No financial corruption or match fixing but the story fired up the debate on playing to the spirit of the game and Cricket Australia, and Australia itself, woke up to a sense of national soul searching as to how winning became so important that cheating to win had been normalised.

Step back from those headlines and draw from it the lesson that if the best of best can, at the level of Captain and Vice-Captain, come to think cheating is normal at Test level in a national team, do not doubt for a moment that others in sport will cheat for their own ends and for their own gain; it is a fact of the human condition that some will cheat. Leaders must set and be seen to set the standard2.

The Independent Review of Tennis Integrity

For lawyers, the much-discussed Independent Review of Integrity in Tennis produced first its interim report3 in April 2018 and then the substantial final report4 in December 2018. The Report, commissioned by the ATP, the WTA, the ITF, and the Grand Slam Board, was summarised in the press by reference to the headline grabbing observation that there was a "tsunami" of match fixing (paragraph 9).

Behind the headline, the Report is the best piece of self-analysis available of how a sports governing body needs to first identify the risks to that sport, then put in place measures both to limit opportunities for corruption, including by considering the betting opportunities that sport creates, education of players, before going on to tackle corruption itself by detection, disruption and discipline. The Report advocates for the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) to police and monitor its own performance of tackling corruption to ensure best practice and effective decision making and recognises that no sport should seek to act in isolation, but each sport should seek by cooperation with national and international law enforcement and by encouragement of legislative action to protect integrity in matches and performance.

Whilst some, perhaps all, of those ideas have been aired and put in place elsewhere in different places and sports5, what the Report achieves is evidencing the problem of corruption in tennis and against that evidence-based approach analysing and proposing evidence led solutions. Other sports governing bodies can read and benefit from the Report and practitioners will at least want to take note of the Executive Summary.

Corruption in Sri Lankan cricket

Third story and back to Cricket and the International Cricket Council (ICC) faced with a number of cases of corruption in Sri Lanka (see below) took the bold step of introducing an amnesty6 for Sri Lankan Cricketers from 16 to 31 January 2019under which any player could report approaches to engage in corrupt activity without jeopardy of sanction for failing to report previously.

That the ICC felt it necessary to bring in such a policy is a sad reflection on the state of cricket in that country; but rather than stand back and rely on the usual methods of investigation and case by case detection, here is an effort to hit the roots of the tree once and for all and to positively encourage a demonstrably reluctant body of players to come forward and provide reports of corrupt approaches, without those players being at risk of inculpating themselves by their failure to have made a timely report.

Time will of course tell whether the product of that amnesty has enabled detection, disruption and prosecution of corrupt participants and their corrupters. However, whatever the outcome the development of the policy and its implementation should make players aware that the ICC will do all that it can to bring out evidence and intelligence to tackle corruption. Faced with a similar problem other sports governing bodies should review the outcome of the ICC’s move and consider implementing their own policy where the evidence is of an historic or substantial reluctance to come forward.

Cases of note involving participants

The roundup of corruption cases is the antithesis of sports personality of the year. Following a sport by sport basis we can see that the problems of match fixing, betting and corruption are ever present as is the need to fight against them not just amongst players but amongst those who support and work with them.

Rugby - April 2018 saw the RFU bring its first prosecution for betting by an RFU Registered Agent, Matthew Hart.7 Hart had been betting on the outcome of rugby matches (prohibited under the World Rugby Regulations) and failed to cooperate with the investigation by concealing information that would have shown him to be using other betting accounts. Following a contested hearing he was suspended for 22 months.

The argument of whether betting should be prohibited by participants in a sport is one that rumbles on, but here the tribunal noted that betting by an agent linked to first class rugby players "exposed both the players and the game of rugby to potential integrity issues".

The essential point is always that a member of the public seeing his team lose and knowing an agent had bet on the outcome, whether with evidence or not, is always likely to think ill of the players in such circumstances. Reputation and demonstration of integrity matters.

Tennis had a run of cases in 2018, notably including:8

  • The Columbian, Barlaham Gaviria, banned for 3 years and fined for failing to cooperate with an investigation;

  • Ukrainians, Dmytro Badanov and the brothers Gleb and Vadim Alekseenko, and Egyptian, Karim Hossam, banned for life for match fixing offences in different cases; and

  • Argentinians, Nicolas Kicker and Federico Coria, banned for 6 years (3 years suspended) for match fixing and non – reporting and 8 months (6 months suspended) for non-reporting respectively.

Not just the Tennis players, but Thai umpires Anucha Tongplew, Apisit Promchaise and Chitchai Srililai received lifetime bans from officiating for match fixing, betting and facilitating betting offence, amongst the offences was manipulating scores inputted into the official scoring system.9 Tennis with its large number of participants is especially vulnerable to corruption being as it is a sport that depends on individual performance.

Other sports with such vulnerability have had to address similar cases:

  • Badminton - in which in 2018 the players Zulfadli Zulkiffli and Tan Chun Seang were banned for 20 years and 15 years respectively for match and point fixing, following a hearing in Singapore.10 A very detailed judgment identifies how the case came to the attention of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) by the courage and decency of a whistle-blower.11 The corruption involved withdrawing from a match to secure a walkover and securing particular point scores for bettors as well as trying to persuade other players to join in. Then in 2019, the former top 10 player, Joachim Persson, was suspended for 18 months for failing to report and failing to provide information.12

  • Snooker - in which the Chinese players Yu Delu and Cao Yupeng were sanctioned for match fixing in 2018 and suspended for 10 years 9 months, and 6 years respectively, having fixed the scores in tournaments and game results for money and for bettors. The Welsh players Jamie Jones and David John were also found to have failed to report match fixing and to have fixed matches respectively and were suspended for 12 months and 5 years and 7 months.13 Jones appealed his sanction and the WPBSA’s Appeal Committee, which in dismissing the appeal, identified in a detailed judgment the reviewing powers of an appeal body. They made clear what matters can be considered when considering sanctions, and that before a disciplinary tribunal a player, particularly when represented by Counsel, should put forward all points that are said to affect sanction.14 The decision also makes clear that contingent consequences of a sanction (e.g. a player falling out of the Top 64) which materialise after a sanction has been imposed should not lead to a reduction in the sanction.

Football - In team sports, in football Belgium police arrested 5 people in October 2018 relation to match fixing in the top division’s relegation battle leading to matches in the second division being cancelled;15 whilst in the UK, following the infamous “piegate” scandal in 2017, the Gambling Commission moved to fine the bookmaker, Tabcorp UK Limited, trading as Sun Bets, £84,000 for its failure to manage risks associated with "novelty bets", the bet being whether a goalkeeper would eat a pie.

Cricket - November 2018, and in cricket, Dhihara Lokuhettige, became the third Sri Lankan player in a month to be charged with corruption offences and the allegation of an attempt to recruit a player to fix a T10 tournament.16 Earlier former test players Nuwan Zoysa and Sanath Jayasuriya had been charged with attempted recruitment and failing to cooperate respectively. Jayasuriya, former Captain and Chairman of Selectors was banned for 2 years in February 201917; Zoysa remains suspended and has protested at the ICC’s conduct18. Against that level of activity, the ICC’s amnesty (discussed above) should be considered.

Horseracing - On four legs, British and Irish Horseracing has managed to have a relatively quiet year in terms of race cases, but Australian racing was hit with two massive scandals. In 2019, the legendary trainer, Darren Weir, was banned for 4 years by the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board for having "jiggers" at his Yard19 (the jigger is used in training to give a horse an electric shock and when racing the horse remembers that and goes faster). Darren Weir had won the Melbourne Cup, and was at the top of his profession. That case came on the back of the life sanctions imposed in 2018 on a doping ring in Australian horse racing known as "the Aquanita case",20 in which race horses were given sodium bicarbonate and Tripart paste to hopefully enable them to run faster and longer. The doping occurred in over 100 horses over a period of 7 years.

Those cases highlight the double concern in sports involving animals that doping not only is used to cheat but also jeopardises the welfare of the animals in racing. The regulator will and must impose severe sanctions to protect the animals the sport depends upon. A point which came home in 2019 in the Greyhound case of Whelan and Others21 where a trainer, owner and kennel hands were warned off for life for doping Greyhounds for the purposes of betting.

Cases of Note Governance

Football – and, of course, FIFA. Having managed to produce a World Cup of note in 2018 (the awarding of which to Russia is still under scrutiny) the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022 continues to be beset with allegations22 of bid corruption,23 and the ethics committee of FIFA continues to bring cases against officials. Brazilian Football Confederation president and one-time FIFA committee member, Marco Polo Del Nero, was banned for life and fined $(US) 1 million for bribery and corruption in April 2018 (he remains in Brazil despite being under indictment in the US).24 And in September 2018, the FIFA Officials Aaron Davidson, Costa Takkas, and match agent, Miguel Trujillo, were all banned for life and heavily fined following their pleas to bribery and corruption in the US Department of Justice’s investigation of international football25.

Badminton – the FIFA cases because of their huge sums and the large number of persons involved run the risk of seeming out of touch of reality, but the real harm and damage of corruption in governance is seen in the BWF case against Raj Gaya.26 Gaya was a Council Member of the BWF and held other offices with the Badminton Confederation of Africa and Mauritian Badminton Association. Over a number of years, by using false invoices and training entities he diverted grants and funding paid out by the BWF intended for the development of the sport and for training, into his personal bank account for his own benefit. His misfeasance was discovered and reported by a whistle-blower. The reality of which was that referees were not paid their due, and athletes training for the Olympics did not receive full funding and equipment was not bought. The damage of this corruption is to the grassroots. He was banned for life.

New Frontiers

The uninspiring litany of corruption set out above presents a challenge to "new" sports and new (legal) betting markets.

Esports - which had a predicted betting market of £45bn in 2018 worldwide, managed to rack up 39 significant alerts of match fixing in 2017;27 and with rise in revenue and betting, increased alerts followed in 201828. The Esports Integrity Coalition imposed a 5-year ban on Nikhil "Forsaken" Kumawait for his cheating in the Zowie eXtemesland Tournament Lan Finals;29 he was using "cheats" during a tournament. Other investigations are underway30 and the impact of cheating in competition on how bookmakers set their sportsbooks is significant.31 As ever, where there is opportunity…

United States - Against that, the USA opening the door to legal sports betting markets following the decision of the Supreme Court in Murphy v NCAA in May 201832 has led to a number of states legislating to, or planning to, permit betting.33 This "gold rush" of opportunity will carry with it the consequences experienced in the old world, Asia and the far east and contemplation of and taking steps to regulate and address betting corruption are underway,34 with the launch35 of Sports Wagering Integrity Monitoring Association (SWIMA) in November 2018 to much acclaim.36 Whether SWIMA can fulfil the expectations of its participants will become clear once it has become operational, but it can draw on the experience and assistance37 of ESSA (Sports Betting Integrity) and the combined intelligence and resource of those two organisations has some promise. The USA will have the benefit of the wide ranging and adaptable criminal jurisdiction of wire fraud and racketeering that has proved so effective in the actions against FIFA.


Sad it is that so many cases of corruption were discovered and prosecuted in 2018/2019. The obvious headline message is that corruption is not going away and will have new places and sports in which to operate. Behind that headline, some themes can be drawn from those decisions and the big stories that dominated the year. I take these.

  • First, there appears to be respect for action by sports regulators and appetite amongst sports governing bodies to take action to discipline, disrupt and detect corruption in sport. The lessons of earlier years that adopting a head in sand policy of "there is not a problem in this sport with corruption" or that officials can be let to retire have been learnt. There is a real sense of activity and of purpose by sports governing bodies. The tenor of commentary and reporting is that action against corruption is a strength of a sport rather than a weakness within it. I sense that the sea change of the "#metoo movement" is the real tsunami in sports corruption, and that willingness to confront and address a problem that all know is there draws respect and confidence in the regulators.

  • Second, and consequent again upon "#metoo" is the rise of the whistle-blower and the understanding that participation in a sport places an obligation on participants to help maintain integrity in that sport. Participants are coming to the recognition that regulators are working to secure safety for those having the courage and decency to fulfil that obligation. A large proportion of the cases I have set out as notable, arose from athletes or players making reports to their sports integrity teams and being prepared to stand up and support prosecutions. Of course, the stick of ‘failing to report’ remains, and is being deployed with regularity with the sanctions for allowing corruption to continue without coming forward severe, but the better way is to have whistle-blowers come forward.

  • Third, and following on, sports regulators are taking real steps not only to encourage and protect whistle-blowers to come forward but also to facilitate their doing so. In March 2019 the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) published its Whistleblowing Policy38 online and open to all to see; that move to make reporting of corruption commonplace and the norm has been assisted by sports regulators reaching out to players and participants to make the reporting of corruption and approaches to do so easier and more accessible. The ICC launched its integrity app on 29 June 2018,39 which allows (as the Tennis Integrity Unit’s had previously) players to make reports from an app on their phone. Normalising reporting and making it easy to do and accessible to people who are being asked to report must be the way forward. There should never be an excuse that it was difficult to act to protect the sport. The hope must be that not only is reporting and standing up to corruption in sport seen as "doing the right thing" but becomes seen as the "normal" thing to do, displacing the casual involvement in cheating that the ball tampering episode in South Africa illustrates.

There is by those actions, some prospect and perhaps expectation that action against corruption will make it harder and less attractive for participants and officials to engage in match fixing and that by its disruption, its grip on some many sports can be loosened.

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Louis Weston

Louis Weston

Barrister, Outer Temple Chambers

Louis is a Barrister practising from chambers at Outer Temple. He is expert in corruption and misfeasance in sport.