Sport is a multi-billion pound resources-resources-business. It has intricate ties to political and private interests. This means rich opportunities for corruption. Yet across the sporting sector, most deals and decisions take place behind closed doors, allowing corruption to go unchecked and unpunished. The Corruption in the UK report from Transparency International UK (TI-UK) revealed that sport is seen by the UK public as the second most corrupt sector in the country.
In recent years, prominent cases of corruption such as match-fixing in snooker, spot fixing in cricket, cheating in rugby; and irregular payments associated with the transfer of players between football clubs have probably encouraged this opinion. This impression has been reinforced by the recent scandals over corruption in horse racing and in FIFA.
The types of corruption that have been detected include relatively low level cheating; spot fixing; match fixing; use of illegal drugs; vote rigging; and bribery. Corruption is manifested as corruption within sporting institutions (such as the allegations facing FIFA) and corruption relating to sporting outcomes (such as match fixing), which is often related to gambling.
In the past two decades, cricket has expanded its popularity and influence, attracting both power and money. This has given new opportunities, but has also heightened existing risks and presented new challenges that threaten cricket’s integrity and reputation.
In January 2014, Transparency International chapters from 9 cricket-playing countries, including Australia, India, Bangladesh, Trinidad and Tobago and the United Kingdom, expressed serious concern at proposed reform of the International Cricket Council (ICC) calling on the ICC to publish a formal response to the Woolf Report and halt any other significant governance reforms.
Prior to this, in 2011 TI made a submission to the International Cricket Council’s Governance Review. The submission was made jointly by TI representatives from 12 countries including Australia, Bangladesh, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Trinidad & Tobago and the UK.
TI-UK is involved with a global TI project called Staying on Side: Education and Prevention of Match Fixing along with 5 other European countries: Germany Greece, Italy, Lithuania and Portugal.
In collaboration with the Association of European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) and the German Football League (DFL), the 18 month project was launched in March 2013 and focused on match-fixing prevention through corruption-resources-corruption-resources-education and awareness-raising. TI-UK is working on a handbook for use in football clubs in the UK which is due for publication in summer 2014.
Responses to corruption are dependent on the sport in question and the type of corruption found. There is little co-ordination in terms of cross-sport responses, with self-regulation the usual mechanism for dealing with corruption.
The diverse range of cases demonstrates the problem of self-regulation in sport and the difficulty of regulating against international corruption. In the case of match fixing and spot fixing, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the root of corruption occurs overseas. Many sports have close links with organised crime both within and outside the UK. Connections between organised crime and sport go back many decades and the links between several very high profile Premiership footballers and high-level organised criminals remains a well-documented phenomenon. Sporting connections provide legitimacy and social status to criminals, as well as potentially lucrative contacts for criminal activities in the future. Sport also provides a channel for overseas organised criminals to increase their activities in the UK while remaining relatively undetected.
The creation of the Sports Betting Integrity Unit (SBIU) in 2010 to tackle corruption in the UK gambling industry is a significant initiative as it demonstrates that cross-sport bodies can be created when a real threat is recognised.
TI-UK recommends a full independent enquiry into corruption in UK sport commissioned by the UK governing bodies of major sports, with a view to setting up a coordinated response to corruption across all UK sports.