HSE University Anti-Corruption Portal
A Paper on Corruption in the Transfer of Athletes Released

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has published an advocacy paper entitled Crime, corruption and wrongdoing in the transfer of football players and other athletes.

The study is a follow-up to the Global Report on Corruption in Sport where the authors highlighted a steady growth in the numbers of corruption crimes in sport also associated with the transfer of athletes.

According to the new publication, the transfer of athletes can be used for:

  • setting up corruption schemes, for instance, by concluding forged transfer contracts;
  • trafficking in persons and exploitation of athletes, particularly foreign citizens dependant on their employers due to considerable loopholes in the labour regulation concerning athletes;
  • illicit financial flows including money-laundering favoured by a global network of shell companies, lax regulation of the area, limited investigative capacity of sport organizations, significant diversity in national and supranational tax regimes with regard to professional athletes and limited information-sharing between national law enforcement agencies;
  • concealing beneficial ownership, for example, via complex corporate structures.

The use of the transfer of athletes for illegal purposes is exacerbated by such factors as:

  • the lack of effective reporting mechanisms: athletes can be obliged to report the violations that come to their knowledge but their legal status often does not imply any protection from retaliation;
  • the increasing value of transfer markets;
  • the involvement of a complex network of intermediaries and other stakeholders that can be used for illicit gain in the transfer of athletes, while the regulation of activities of intermediaries by the States and sport organisations is usually poor or even absent in many cases.

In response to the growing number of crimes in sport some countries, international and domestic sport organisations are taking ever more active measures to counter them.

In Belgium for instance, the scope of anti-money-laundering legislation has been extended to the Royal Belgian Football Association that has subsequently set up a clearing house to have more control over transfer commissions; in Portugal, this legislation has included the persons involved in the sale and acquisition of rights over participants in professional sports activities; and in South Africa, there is legislation relevant to the protection of minors in the context of the transfer of athletes.

UNODC has launched the Programme on Safeguarding Sport from Corruption and Crime to provide governments, sports organisations and other stakeholders with assistance in countering corruption and crime in sport, in particular, in the transfer of athletes also by developing relevant instruments, organising events, supporting in the drafting of legal acts and the like.

Besides UNODC, corruption in the transfer of athletes is addressed by such international organisations and structures as the Council of Europe, the European Union, the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group, Interpol, the International Labour Organisation and FATF.

Furthermore, crime in the transfer of athletes is tackled by sports organisations, in particular, the Athletics Integrity Unit that has issued a handbook on trafficking in persons in athletics, and FIFA that promotes a reform of the international transfer system etc.

In order to further enhance the effectiveness of measures to counter crime in the transfer of athletes, UNODC stresses the need to ratify and actively enforce at the domestic level the relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the United Nations Convention against Corruption, as well as to implement a number of specific measures, including:

1. for governments:

  • adopt clear and comprehensive legislation that prohibits all forms of exploitation of and violence against children and adults in all contexts including sport;
  • harmonize the conditions of entry for young players from one country to another;
  • improve the rules of transfer of minor and young athletes;
  • consider criminalising wrongdoing linked to the transfer of athletes and improve relevant law enforcement mechanisms;
  • establish or adapt existing mechanisms or platforms to support the investigation and prosecution of economic crime-related misconduct in athlete transfers;
  • establish and maintain mechanisms at the level of public bodies and organisations for reporting crime linked also to the transfer of athletes and for effective protection of reporting persons, including in sport;
  • implement education and awareness-raising initiatives that promote principles of integrity and create an atmosphere of intolerance towards corruption, particularly in junior and youth sport;
  • conduct and/or support empirical studies to enhance understanding of the risks of corruption and crimes linked to the transfer of athletes, whether in specific sports or in sport in general;
  • enhance cooperation between and among law enforcement and judicial authorities, corruption prevention authorities, lawmakers and policymakers, international organizations, sports organizations, civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders linked to the transfer of athletes;

2. for sport organisations:

  • develop and adopt, in line with domestic laws, codes of conduct aimed at better regulating the transfer of athletes;
  • enhance transparency and accountability in relation to the transfer of athletes;
  • develop mechanisms for confidential reporting of wrongdoing;
  • take measures to guarantee safety in the context of transfer of athletes, in particular, safe return (in case of movement to a different country due to transfer), humane and safe working conditions free of violence, abuse and discrimination etc.;
  • introduce measures aimed at addressing risks of crimes linked to the transfer of athletes, including the promotion of education and awareness-raising campaigns for children and young adults;
  • strengthen cooperation with law enforcement, judicial authorities and corruption prevention entities;
  • monitor the effectiveness of transfer system reforms, based on appropriate qualitative and quantitative indicators and drawing on feedback from internal and external sources, conduct regular risk assessments related to the infiltration of organised crime;
  • develop inclusive and accountable governance structures to ensure that interests of all affected stakeholders are represented in line with basic principles of democracy.
Corruption in sport

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