Money Smart Athlete Blog

What leads to corruption in sports?

Aug 26, 2020 | Special Themes

By Anna Kyprianou, APC Sports Consulting Ltd

Corruption is not something new in the world of sports. It has existed since the establishment of sports competitions. From the ancient Olympic Games where athletes were accepting bribes to lose the competition, to the most recent Russian Olympic Team doping scandal, to Calciopoli and to Football Leaks with the revealing of murky financial transactions in European football, corruption is evolving into a global public policy issue. According to Paoli and Donati (2013) corruption in sports arises in four trends; de-amateurization, medicalization, politicization and commercialization. Through this article I will try to identify what leads to corruption in sports and why athletes, coaches, agents and other sports officials fall into the trap of corruption.

Sports, is a multi-billion dollar business and thus a lucrative one which makes it prone to corruption. A basic aspect of corruption in sports is that it is multifaceted and manifested in many ways. For instance, doping arises from the de-amateurization and medicalization. The dream to succeed and the developments in medicine and its techniques led to athletes looking for ways to enhance their performance to win a medal in the Olympics or a trophy in a competition. Athletes that compete at the top-level keep searching for ways to get an edge over their competitors in order to achieve glory, success, respect and money. The doping phenomenon is more common when it comes to the Olympics, mostly because of the close cooperation between Government officials and the medical staff of each country. Politics don’t stay out of this phenomenon, unfortunately. The involvement of politicians makes the issue even more complicated mainly because of the connection of high profile individuals. Governments usually use the veil of secrecy to hide corruption scandals in order to protect themselves from public exposure and loss of political credibility.

Furthermore, looking into the Calciopoli and other match-fixing scandals, the main concern is that match-fixing and illegal betting take more than one person to be arranged. During a research I launched recently while working on the issue of match fixing, I interviewed several footballers that play in European clubs regarding the reasons behind match-fixing. The conclusions I reached came as a surprise. The primary reason, mostly in Eastern Europe, is that footballers have to “survive”. And what do they mean by “survive”?

Most clubs, especially second-tier ones and below, are not able to pay salaries after the first half of the season. That happens usually because of lack of financial planning on the club’s side, with the annual budget of the club being rather unrealistic and not facts-based. Normally clubs, especially the ones belonging to the second-tier and below, do not analyze the risk factors or even consider the worst-case scenario. The financial risk in combination with the uncertainty of sports, usually leads to economic instability within clubs. The urgent need to find the resources to pay at least the players’ salaries, is one of the reasons that lead clubs in the search of a fast and easy access to money which can lead to match fixing.

To control corruption in sports, there is a growing demand for specific legislative and policy responses. A recent European report showed that of the 27 EU nations, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy, Malta and Poland have passed specific anti-corruption laws to address match-fixing. Other European nations use existing fraud or anti-corruption legislation, and a few rely on conspiracy offences. FIFA and UEFA also took several steps recently, to prevent officials and athletes from fixing games, through new legislation and cooperation with government and international organizations. An example of these initiatives is the agreement signed between FIFA and INTERPOL aiming to educate and train key actors in football on how to recognize, resist and report attempts to corrupt or fix matches and to better prepare law enforcement on how to investigate and cooperate in corruption or match-fixing related cases. FIFA and UEFA are trying to persuade their Member Federations to adopt these agreements and incorporate these new regulations into their existing legislation.

Corruption in sports has existed since the beginning of time and it’s difficult to tackle. We probably cannot extinguish match-fixing, illegal betting or doping, but more can be done at a national level and international level to limit the exposure of athletes and other sports officials. Such steps could be the education of athletes and sports officials and more severe and readily enforceable sanctions. Most importantly, however, all relevant stakeholders need to understand that the only way to tackle corruption in sports and achieve some sort of progress, is through coherent, coordinated and decisive action.