14 December 2021
Safeguarding sport from corruption
Protecting the integrity of sport to harness its positive power
Sport has the power to inspire and unite, yet corruption and crime threaten to undermine its positive contribution to society and our lives. The credibility of sport is at stake unless efforts are made to combat illegal betting, competition manipulation, abuse in sport, corruption in major sporting events, the involvement of organized crime in sport, and other illicit activities.
Corruption in sport is not new. Fraudulent activities in sports competitions and institutions have been documented since the ancient Olympic Games but in the past two decades criminal activities have increased substantially. The rapid growth of legal and illegal sports betting along with technological advances have transformed how sport is played and consumed, making it increasingly attractive to criminals.
The political declaration of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session against Corruption held earlier this year, highlighted the need for sports organizations, international and regional organizations, and law enforcement to cooperate to effectively combat corruption.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) helps through its Programme on Safeguarding Sport from Corruption and Crime, a key pillar of its Global Programme against Corruption. The programme supports governments, sports organizations and relevant stakeholders to tackle corruption and crime in sport.
Sport has seen several high-profile corruption scandals which has generated an increased momentum to tackle the problem. This is shown by the G20’s adoption in October this year of High-Level Principles on Tackling Corruption in Sport.
Fair competition versus manipulation and match-fixing
The manipulation of sports competitions, and the illegal betting that accompanies it, is a complex threat to the integrity of sport and a huge transnational business with up to 1.7 trillion US dollars a year estimated to be wagered on illicit betting markets.
The financial scale is such that illegal betting is a major driver of corruption in sport and a key channel for money-laundering. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the risk factors.
Youth sports, semi-professional competitions and women’s sports are increasingly being targeted because there is little or no monitoring of betting, and the manipulation is difficult to detect.
The proliferation of online gambling and the growth of cryptocurrencies along with the transnational nature of many illegal betting operations present a challenge. Illegal operators can exploit an uneven national legislative landscape while the Internet and cryptocurrency provide greater anonymity.
Governments and sports bodies are acting to address and minimize these risks. Major sports betting operations, betting industry associations and monitoring companies are cooperating and sharing betting data and suspicious betting alerts with sports organizations.
Global report on Safeguarding Sport from Corruption
The UNODC Global Report on Corruption in Sport shows for the first time the scale, scope and complexity of corruption and criminal networks in national and international sport.
Launched to coincide with International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December, the Global Report maps the corruption threats facing sport, analyzing the trends of corrupt practices in sport, looking at existing initiatives and good practices and how legal frameworks can be used to tackle the problem. Nearly 200 experts including from governments, sports organizations, the private sector and academia contributed to the report, which is the most in-depth of its type to date and sets out a series of possible responses.
The Global report highlights the urgent need to strengthen legal frameworks, develop policies, increase cooperation and enhance the understanding of the interlinkages between corruption and organized crime in sport and develop capacities of relevant government entities and sport organizations to tackle them.
What is UNODC doing about it
Through its Programme on Safeguarding Sport from Corruption and Crime, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has delivered over 150 activities including awareness raising, capacity building and technical assistance) to over 7,500 direct beneficiaries from more than 130 countries, since 2017.
The programme is financially supported by the Governments of Norway and the Russian Federation, the International Olympic Committee and the European Commission.
Through its research and analysis, UNODC enhances understanding of the problem and what needs to be done about it. Recent publications have covered the sport’s response to the pandemic and an overview of relevant laws and standards on tackling bribery in sport.
This year, UNODC extended its partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to further strengthen cooperation in fighting corruption. The agreement emphasises preventing youth crime, violence and drug use through sport. It also supports activities to enhance sport’s contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and promoting sport for development and peace, including through the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Further to this, UNODC has joined forces with world football’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), to encourage players, clubs, coaches and officials to speak out against matching-fixing and raise awareness about FIFA’s confidential reporting platforms.
UNODC has also supported the development of FIFA’s Global Integrity Programme, which provides Member Associations with resources to tackle match manipulation. UNODC has delivered training to four of the six confederations covering Africa, Asia, North, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
What needs to be done
As sport has evolved in terms of professionalism, globalization and accessibility, so the types of corruption that affect it and the scale have grown. Legal, policy and institutional frameworks need to be strengthened to prevent and respond to this.
More effective national cooperation between law enforcement, criminal justice authorities and sports organizations and increased exchange of information will also be vitally important to better detect and report corruption in sport and prevent competitions being manipulated.
It is critical athletes and others can come forward and report approaches from match-fixers, through open, confidential and anonymous mechanisms. Potential whistle-blowers can be discouraged or fear of retaliation or the belief it will not make a difference.
Investigative journalists are increasingly engaged in exposing corruption in sport but often face intimidation, attempts to undermine their professional credibility and even threats to their lives. Action needs to be taken to encourage independent media and investigative journalism.
Corruption in sport is a matter of public interest as countries invest in sport and promote its health, education and social benefits. Governments, sports organizations and athletes need to commit to developing and implementing comprehensive anti-corruption policies in sport to ensure it remains a force for peace and development.
Placing the integrity of sport at the centre of recovering from the pandemic is key to ensuring sport – and society – emerges from this challenge as strongly as possible.
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