HSE University Anti-Corruption Portal
Corruption in Sport and Countermeasures

In the midst of the big FIFA bribery scandals we propose an overview of how the global campaign against corruption in sport is conducted at the national and international levels.

The popularity of sports competitions among population, significant financial investments and the possibility to make an impact on the image of a country create an environment for specific manifestations of corruption in sport.

Match-fixing is one of these. This type of illegal activity is encountered practically in each sport that attracts important investments, from conventional to modern one, such as cybersports. Organized crime, which owes illegal betting houses, is often involved in match-fixing: their go-betweens bribe athletes, sports managers or referees to influence in a certain way the final score of a competition and subsequently gain excess profits from betting.

It is not an easy task to detect and prove these crimes. Some countries set up special units to carry out relevant investigations: for instance, in February 2020 the Cypriot authorities announced the establishment of a legislative committee to counter corruption in football and the reinforcement of the police staff responsible for investigating match-fixing. Those measures were adopted after the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) had sent to the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) a dossier regarding six allegedly fixed matches that had taken place in the country since September 2019: suspiciously big bets were made on each of them. According to Marios Lefkaritis, the honorary president of the CFA and UEFA honorary member, UEFA has submitted to the CFA the information on 75 presumably fixed matches since 2011.

In spite of the fact that it is difficult to prove match-fixing, law enforcement authorities have carried out a series of successful investigations, quite often with active engagement of journalists and NGOs. For example, in 2017 Europol together with Spanish law enforcement bodies launched an investigation into a Spanish tennis player, suspected of match-fixing. As a result, in 2019 they revealed a scheme, run by an Armenian criminal group for many years with the involvement of 28 professional tennis players from Spain (as of today 15 of them have already been prosecuted).

Match-fixing is not the only manifestation of corruption in sport. Bribery in children and youth sports schools, kickbacks in football transfers (a situation when players leave a club for another) and the use of sports investments for disguising bribery or money-laundering deserve equal attention. Corruption in national and international sports federations remains one of the most acute problems: the selection for and appointment to managerial positions, allocation of funding, granting of broadcasting rights, advertisement contracts and selection of countries to host major sporting events pose relevant risks.

For instance, the “FIFA Gate” has been one of the most notable corruption scandals of recent years. In May 2015 several dozens of FIFA officials in service were arrested on suspicion of having taken bribes amounting to over $150 million. According to the case file, the corruption activities were aimed at influencing the outcome of the selection of the countries to host the FIFA World Cup. All in all, 18 natural and 2 legal persons were prosecuted. One of the peculiarities of this case was that the US law enforcement bodies applied the national anti-corruption law, in particular, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) extraterritorially. RICO provides for a penalty for the investment of illegally acquired assets.

The investigation against the bribery of the FIFA officials is still ongoing: the United States Department of Justice in April 2020 announced the indictment that charges the officials of the FIFA executive committee with having been bribed to support the decision to grant the rights to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018 and 2022 to Russia and Qatar respectively.

Today there is a growing understanding that an effective fight against corruption in sport requires specific decisions, including in legal and organizational areas, and important resources to address them. This is largely favoured by a pro-active approach of international organizations.

In particular, the Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption, a gathering of 183 countries, adopted for the first time at its 7th session in 2017 a thematic resolution “Corruption in sport”. In line with that the Conference at its 8th session in 2019 adopted a new resolution “Safeguarding sport from corruption”, tabled by the Russian Federation, which provides for s set of specific measures, including the development of a comprehensive study on corruption in sport.

The Council of Europe in 2014 drafted the Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions that obliges the parties to consider introducing criminal liability for match-fixing, take measures to prevent conflict-of-interest situations between bookmaker offices and sports organizations as well as to fight against illegal betting houses. The Convention has been ratified by 6 countries, whilst other 32, including Russia, have signed but not ratified it yet.

The international efforts in the investigation of corruption crimes should also be mentioned. In 2011 Interpol established a match-fixing task force that enjoys the participation of 75 countries, including Russia. Interpol also cooperates with the IOC, the Council of Europe and other international organizations and sends its specialists to monitor all major sporting events.

In addition, the increased attention to safeguarding sport from corruption manifests itself in a series of dedicated international initiatives launched over the past years also with the participation of civil society organizations, such as the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS), the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS), the International Partnership Against Corruption in Sport (IPACS), Play the Game and others.

Many countries adopt national laws that provide for the preventive measures against corruption crimes in sport and criminalize or tighten criminal liability for committing them. For instance in Russia, article 26.2 of Federal Law No. 329-FZ “On Physical Culture and Sport in the Russian Federation” provides for the measures for preventing and fighting against the manipulation of sports competitions, meanwhile the liability for an undue influence on the result of a sport competition is envisaged in article 184 of the Criminal Code.

Corruption in sport
Criminal prosecution
International cooperation
Civil society

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