Corruption in sport - why a global problem requires a global solution
The last match-fixing case the author worked on involved incidents in India, Bangladesh and England, bookies with connections in India, Pakistan and the UAE, players from multiple countries, some of whom are resident in yet other countries and punters based all over the world. This is entirely typical of match and spot fixing cases. In fact, the author is only aware of one case in cricket that was confined to a single legal jurisdiction. The experience illustrates that corruption respects no boundaries or jurisdictions. So why then are anti-corruption measures so often mired in jurisdictional disputes and multiple agencies confined to single sports, single issues and/or single countries or regions. It doesn’t make sense, does it?
This feature examines and aims to provoke discussion around whether there is a case to be made for a global, centralised sports’ integrity body and, if so, what it might look like.
Who are the stakeholders in the fight against corruption?
The four key stakeholders in the fight against corruption in sport are:
- The sports industry (namely: athletes, governing bodies, employing clubs and other participants like officials and support staff);
- The Betting industry (regulated and unregulated, legal and illegal, punter and bookie);
- Governments; and
- Law enforcement authorities.
Of course, supporters could be added as a key stakeholder and they are obviously vital to the whole of sport at every level, but they cannot be effectively organised or compelled into action to combat sports corruption in a meaningful way, so the author takes the view that the supporters are the people for whom the rest of the stakeholders ought to be working and anti-corruption measures should be put in place and enhanced for the supporters, not by the supporters.
Each key stakeholder has different imperatives and priorities, different resources and a different vested interest in tackling sports fraud; but each has an increasing interest in the subject as scandal after scandal breaks and it becomes clear that, where a market exists, someone is trying to manipulate it and the only question becomes whether or not they are succeeding.
Every day the body of knowledge and experience grows in each of the stakeholders and their efforts to combat fraud by athletes, officials, owners and punters increase in sophistication and scope. So individual targets harden, education programmes develop, seminars and conferences proliferate, investigations progress, laws and regulations evolve to cope with new problems and sporadic prosecutions are followed by bans, fines, jail terms and warnings off. There is, however, practically no overlap between these various efforts between agencies, countries and sports and best practice and intelligence is being dissipated so that the concentrated attacks of the fixers come up against a diluted, patchy and incomplete defence.
Right now, the cross section of agencies involved in the fight against corruption in sport span the public and private sector and are as diverse as INTERPOL, ESSA Sport Betting Integrity, Sportradar, the ACSU, International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS), the Gambling Commission, the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU), the Australian Crime Commission and so on and so on. Some of them talk to each other and some are in competition with each other. Some do the same thing in different sports and some do different things in the same sport. Some of them are currently investigating the same criminals and don’t even know it. All of them, to one extent or another, are finding their way through a labyrinth alone, unaware of or unable to join hands with their fellow searchers.
It is clear to the author that there are two key elements of the fight against corruption that would benefit from central coordination on a global platform:
- Best practice; and
- Intelligence collation, analysis and investigation coordination.
It would be great to add independent prosecution to that list, but I know that’s a non-starter from a sports governance and legal jurisdiction point of view in the current environment. Maybe one day… baby steps for now!
There has been an exponential increase in recent years in the scope and quality of work done in prevention, detection and prosecution of sport fraud. In particular, sports have evolved better regulations as the weakness of early versions has been exposed by regulatory prosecutions. Some sports and player associations have developed fantastic education programmes and resources to ensure participants understand the regulations and how corrupters will try to ensnare them. Betting operators have developed effective fraud detection systems. Governments have enacted laws specifically aimed at combatting betting and sports fraud and match manipulation. Law enforcement, particularly Interpol, have developed analysis and investigation techniques to deal with a complex problem in an area traditionally poorly understood and poorly prioritised.
There is a strong case to be made for a central body that sits in the middle of all of this and collates all this best practice and provides common resources to all based on what the best have learned and developed. This is not an area where proprietary arguments should result in sports with few resources simply not being able to address this issue.
Intelligence collation, analysis and investigation coordination
Law enforcement bodies and sports anti-corruption units throughout the world are currently collecting, analysing and investigating vast swathes of intelligence about betting and sports fraud and the people engaged in it. Undoubtedly, different bodies are looking at the same people and it is reasonable to extrapolate that the whole enterprise would be exponentially enhanced if the results of this entire endeavour were coordinated.
Let us imagine that there was an organisation – let’s call it the “Global Anti-Corruption Alliance” (GACA) – that could do all of this with the backing of the four key stakeholders. How would it look?
In many ways, it’s easier to say how it should not look. It should not look like WADA – it should not be hubristic in its attempted reach – trying to be a social or moral guardian on issues like recreational (as opposed to performance enhancing) drugs takes the remit to prevent cheating a step too far and there is a risk that a GACA could commit the same error by trying to address the moral and social issues of whether or not gambling should exist or “be allowed” – it does exist and that requires a realistic approach in preventing its potentially corrupt consequences. Also the aim should not be some kind of global regulation and prosecution regime because we are dealing with an offence that is not detectable with a test and the result of which is different in every sport and every country.
It should not be dominated by any one stakeholder, so independence is vital. We have seen the influence of the IOC or FIFA or the BCCI in cricket governance to know that having the GACA subject to what one stakeholder wants would be a serious mistake. Consequently, I would propose that an independent Board elected by the stakeholders on a “one funder, one vote” basis and chaired by an eminent international judicial figurehead (retired Justice Mudgal from India springs immediately to mind following his stellar efforts in dealing with the IPL corruption scandal1) should result in a balanced strategic body who can then employ a capable executive staff. It also seems self-evident to me that Interpol should house the intelligence collating and analysis function because they already have the nascent ability and connections in place – with better funding, they could improve exponentially and real headway could be made.
Naturally, this begs the question of funding. Being pragmatic, the GACA is going to start small – a few enlightened governments allying with a few enlightened sports tapping into the existing expertise in the sports integrity unit at Interpol and the intelligence of an organisation like ESSA are all that’s needed to get this moving and it can then grow organically – the key is finding a champion of sufficient drive and influence to make it happen. A few individuals spring to mind, but there must be at least one government out there (Singapore springs to mind given the damage some of their citizens have done) who would be willing to provide seed money and a headquarters to such a venture? As more stakeholders join in, the better the GACA becomes in fulfilling its remit and that success and growth would be exponential.
A further important function of the GACA would be lobbying governments for good laws (criminal and regulation of gambling) and coordination between agencies; in particular in law enforcement and the betting industry to ensure the flow of intelligence (a notorious thick treacle) is more comprehensive and timely.
A lot can be learnt from the fight against doping. Good national anti-doping organisations (NADOs) have built successful relationships with law enforcement and use their limited resources to pursue evidence and intelligence based detection and testing. They work with their athlete groups and representatives and with their governments. They are open, transparent and accountable and they don’t try and solve all of society’s ills – just the one they were really set up to combat – drugs cheating at sport. Poor NADOs waste their resources in endless unfocussed testing and then boast about how many tests they’ve conducted, because they can’t point to any success in catching or even preventing doping.
It’s time to stop talking and start doing. Is there a champion out there?
- Anti-Corruption Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) Australian Crime Commission (ACC) Bangladesh Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) Cricket England European Sports Security Association (ESSA) FIFA Football Gambling Commission Governance India International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) INTERPOL IOC Pakistan Regulation Rugby Sportradar Tennis Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) UAE United States of America (USA)