By Prof Dr Steve Cornelius, University of Pretoria, South Africa
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently advertised contract positions for researchers to work on a project focused on corruption and match fixing in sport. It would seem as if the UNODC has taken a keen interest in this matter and is seeking to compile a report for further consideration by the relevant UN bodies.
Match fixing arguably poses the biggest threat to sport today – even more than doping. It undermines the integrity of sport, with the risk that fans, sponsors and broadcasters will lose interest and move their much-needed support and funding elsewhere. Once the confidence of fans, sponsors and broadcasters is lost, it will be nigh impossible to restore. Fans demand a fair contest and, without fans, there would be little reason for sponsors and broadcasters to be involved in sport.
As a result, the focus which the UNODC is now placing on corruption and match-fixing in sport, must be welcomed.
Sports federations face an uphill battle against well-organised syndicates that will stop at nothing to manipulate the run of play or outcome of sports events. Whilst most sports have now established integrity units and severe action is taken against athletes who succumb to the temptation to fix matches, these integrity units are mostly toothless tigers, which do not have any investigative or regulatory powers outside their own sports. The syndicates involved in match fixing and corruption can continue with relative impunity.
Sports federations are dependent on national police and prosecuting authorities to lead the fight. However, the crime syndicates operate on a global basis and national authorities in different countries do not all take the same interest in the matter.
The fight against doping in sport faced similar problems. Not all sports federations viewed the matter in the same serious light and the approach in different countries was hugely inconsistent. This all changed when the UNESCO International Convention against Doping in Sport. Anti-doping authorities now had an international legal framework to rely on and different sports federations and national authorities could be held to minimum standards.
Hopefully, the research by the UNODC is the first step towards the establishment of a uniform international regime to deal decisively with corruption and match fixing in sport.
Setting uniform standards of compliance across all sports and across all jurisdictions is the only way in which sports federations can have any realistic hope of defeating the syndicates and safeguarding the integrity of their sports.
Prof Dr Steve Cornelius may be contacted by e-mail at ‘steve.cornelius.up.ac.za’