University of Salford Manchester

International agency needed to fight sports betting corruption says think tank study

Wednesday 8 February 2012
There is an urgent need for the creation of a worldwide agency to tackle the growing threat of corruption in sport linked to betting.

This is the key recommendation of a study produced jointly by influential Paris-based think tank the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), the University of Salford, the China Centre for Lottery Studies and criminal organisation research specialists Praxes Avocats.

According to the report – Sports betting and corruption in sport: the challenges involved in preserving the integrity of sport – the involvement of international organised crime in sports fraud, match-fixing and corruption means that a body similar in scope and reputation to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is required to protect the trust of the public in professional sports.

Researchers studied dozens of criminal cases worldwide involving the manipulation of hundreds of sports matches and events to reach the conclusion that the setting up of an international monitoring organisation is vital to combat betting corruption and to further raise awareness among sport administrators, the media and the public.

Report co-author Professor David Forrest, Professor of Economics at the University of Salford Business School, believes that the huge volume of money being bet on sporting events across the globe brings considerable risks to the integrity of sports competitions which are not always addressed in a consistent and co-ordinated way.

“The frequency of proven cases of corruption in European football, for example, would surprise many people,” said Professor Forrest. “Despite the excellent work of UEFA, which monitors over 300 gambling websites for unusual betting patterns as part of a wide-ranging anti-corruption programme, it is estimated that around 1 in 100 professional European football matches are fixed in some way, equating to several each week.

“Bets of €200,000-300,000 can be readily placed by agents using high volume Asian markets, even on relatively minor tiers of competition like the Belgian Second Division, where footballers’ wages are low and so players are potentially more susceptible to bribery. This underlines how vulnerable sport can be to corruption.”

The study highlights a number of prominent cases of match rigging to illustrate the prevalence of betting-related corruption in sport. A recent example is the ongoing ‘Bochum’ European football investigation in Germany, which so far has led to the trial and imprisonment of nine members of a Balkan criminal gang. The investigation has uncovered payments of over €12 million in just one year to bribe players, coaches, referees and officials to fix 320 domestic, European and international matches in nine European countries.

In common with many other instances of large-scale sports corruption, the ‘Bochum’ case only came to light during a police investigation into other organised crime activities. Continued Professor Forrest: “Bochum shows the increasingly sophisticated nature of much of the bribery and corruption, often driven by organised crime, and how difficult it can be for even the most active sports body to identify and deal with it.”

The report concludes that sports organisations must make combating corruption in sport a core objective and a keystone of governance and that a ‘corruption in sport monitoring centre’ should be set up with a view to forming an international agency for the integrity of sport.

Professor Forrest said: “The credibility of professional sport is under threat in the current climate of judicial investigations, scandals and fraud across many countries. Only if there is co-operation at international level between the betting industry, regulators, judicial systems and sports governing bodies can an effective resistance against fixing be mounted.”