Tackling Sports Corruption

What is the issue?

Sports compliance agency I Trust Sport believes that sport can be a force for good. Sadly, corruption sometimes prevents sport from fulfilling its full potential to benefit individuals and societies.

Sports corruption can be divided into competition and management corruption. Another way of considering non-competition cheating is as breaches of constitutive rules – “rules about rules”.

Examples of management corruption include bribery and election manipulation. In the most serious cases, management corruption is a criminal offence dealt with by law enforcement agencies. I Trust Sport focuses on the broader area of sports governance, spanning the range from very poor governance through to best practice.

The most prominent forms of competition corruption are:

  • Doping
  • Match manipulation, which includes match-fixing, spot-fixing and related activities, both for the purposes of financial gain through gambling and for sporting reasons (e.g. to avoid relegation)


Doping (Drugs and doping in sport)

The rule violations that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) defines can be summarised as:

  • Presence of prohibited substances in an athlete’s urine or blood sample
  • Using a prohibited substance or method
  • Evading an anti-doping test
  • Possession or handling of a prohibited substance or prohibited method
  • Assisting others with an anti-doping violation, or associating with a person who has violated the anti-doping code

Match manipulation (Match fixing, betting and gambling corruption in sport)

The Council of Europe Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions (2014) defines the manipulation of sports competitions as:

“An intentional arrangement, act or omission aimed at an improper alteration of the result or the course of a sports competition in order to remove all or part of the unpredictable nature of the aforementioned sports competition with a view to obtaining an undue advantage for oneself or for others.”

The definition therefore encompasses efforts to alter the course of an event (so-called “spot fixing”) as well as the overall result. Both match-fixing for sporting reasons and for financial gain are included.

The status of match manipulation in law is a complex issue and varies by country.

Good governance (Sports governance)

On a scale of standards of governance, management corruption lies at one end with best practice cases at the other extreme.

The influential Cadbury Report on Corporate Governance (1992) defined governance as “the system by which companies are directed and controlled”.

In 2013, the EU’s Expert Group on Good Governance produced their own version of Principles of good governance in sport, which included this definition:

“The framework and culture within which a sports body sets policy, delivers its strategic objectives, engages with stakeholders, monitors performance, evaluates and manages risk and reports to its constituents on its activities and progress including the delivery of effective, sustainable and proportionate sports policy and regulation.”

What is the response?


WADA was established in 1999 as an international independent agency composed and funded equally by the sport movement and governments.

Its key activities include scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities, and monitoring of the World Anti-Doping Code – the document harmonizing anti-doping policies in all sports and all countries.

The World Anti-Doping Code is mandatory for the Olympic Movement. In addition, many non-Olympic sports have also adopted it.

Numerous sports organisations at international and national level are responsible for running anti-doping initiatives, including testing and education programmes.

The World Anti-Doping Code sets out the sanctions for rule violations. There is provision for a suspension of 1 year, 2 years, 4 years or up to a lifetime, depending on the circumstances. The possibility exists for a reduction in the period of suspension if the individual provides substantial assistance relating to a breach of the rules by somebody else. An athlete’s historic results over a period of time may be annulled and financial penalties can also be imposed. WADA also monitors the compliance of the organisations which are signatories to the Code.

There is a never-ending race between those willing to help athletes cheat by exploiting medical advances and the drug testing technology. WADA and others conduct research to improve testing procedures for existing and new substances thought to improve performance.


The current focus on tackling the threat of match-fixing dates back to the years soon after 2000.

The IOC now has its own strategy in place for the prevention of manipulation of competitions, based on three pillars:
a) regulations and legislation
b) awareness raising and capacity building
c) intelligence and investigations.

A number of sports at international and national level have set up their own integrity teams, such World Athletics, the International Tennis Integrity Unit and the International Cricket Council anti-corruption unit.

The threat of match manipulation has also been recognised by governments and international institutions.

In the UK the Sports Betting Group brings together representatives from across sport to provide leadership and to address the risks from sports betting corruption, including via a Code of Practice for governing bodies.

A recent Council of Europe Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions (2014) contains detailed measures to be implemented by member states both within Europe and potentially beyond.

In 2015, the IOC adopted the Olympic Movement Code on the Prevention of the Manipulation of Competitions, which aims to define and harmonise match manipulation standards, disciplinary procedures and sanctions. The Code is compliant with the Council of Europe Convention.

A small industry of sport corruption consultants and not-for-profit organisations is developing to provide services to sports bodies to help them reduce the risk of match manipulation.

There has also been recognition that the format of sporting competitions should be adjusted to ensure that they do not unintentionally incentivise match manipulation.

Good Governance

Sports governance first attracted serious scrutiny as a discrete topic in the 1990s after work by academics, investigative journalists and campaigning organisations such as Play the Game.

Among several governance-related recommendations in the IOC’s Agenda 2020 initiative there is a specific requirement for organisations belonging to the Olympic Movement to accept and comply with the Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance of the Olympic and Sports Movement.

The Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) subsequently developed a governance assessment tool for International Federations.

Some individual sports organisations have embarked on governance reform processes, usually after encountering a crisis. However, the pace of progress across the sports sector as a whole is slow.

In addition to the various good governance codes which have been published, governments and regulatory bodies in many countries have begun to set standards of governance for sports bodies to achieve as a condition of public funding.

The EU is in involved sports governance in various ways. As well as setting up the Expert Group referenced above, the EU has funded a series of governance-related projects.

A new initiative which started in 2017 called the International Partnership Against Corruption in Sport (IPACS) brings together stakeholders including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the IOC, a number of national governments, the Council of Europe and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Taskforces are addressing the issues of corruption in procurement, integrity in the selection of hosts for major sports events, and compliance with good governance principles.

I Trust Sport view

Corruption holds sport back and threatens its economic well-being.


Implementing best practice anti-doping programmes is a necessarily complex and expensive process, requiring the latest medical testing technology, sophisticated logistics, rigorous legal processes and the political will to sanction those found to have breached the Code.

I Trust Sport view on some of the current priorities for anti-doping programmes:

  1. Quality over quantity – target resources where they are likely to have most effect
  2. Intelligence gathering to supplement testing – several of the most prominent doping cases have been uncovered by whistleblowers rather than through anti-doping testing
  3. Respect athletes’ rights – while athletes have to agree to undergo anti-doping testing in order to compete, testing regulations must be proportionate and effective, respecting their rights and giving athletes a prominent voice
  4. Funding needed – both governments and responsible sponsors have a duty to pay to protect the clean sport from which they hope to benefit
  5. Independence – too often national or international sports bodies and even governments have seemed unwilling to sanction their own stars. Testing and sanctioning should be conducted independently. The creation of the International Testing Agency is a promising step
  6. Testing of historic samples – samples taken in and out of competition should be frozen for re-testing several years later, when the science may have improved
  7. Clearer accountability – the allocation of responsibilities among the multiple international and national actors in anti-doping is confusing. If the ultimate ‘beneficiaries’ of the anti-doping regime are identified then an appropriate role and scope of action can be designed for each stakeholder

Match manipulation

While the issue of match-fixing is acknowledged throughout the sports movement and new education programmes and other measures are in place, the limited response in many cases suggests that the gravity of the risk is not always appreciated.

I Trust Sport view on some of the current priorities for tackling match manipulation:

  1. More international co-operation and information sharing is needed between governments, law enforcement, sports bodies and the gambling industry. An integrity unit working closely, for example, with law enforcement can cut manipulation at source by identifying corruptors before they access players
  2. The Council of Europe Convention has already had a positive impact but format ratification and implementation would accelerate progress in several priority areas
  3. Monitoring is now in place in most major leagues and sports to check for suspicious betting patterns, particularly in high- risk sports such as football, cricket and tennis. It should continue to evolve and integrity units should be encouraged to use the data to be proactive in investigations
  4. The legal status of the corruption of sports results varies considerably by market, making prosecutions difficult, especially across borders. The ultimate goal should be harmonising legislation
  5. Exploration of legalising illegal betting markets. A legal market has a ‘paper trail’ for every bet wagered, a system to shut down markets as soon as an irregular betting pattern is spotted and law-enforcement relationships.
  6. All stakeholders to be alert to the changing nature of manipulation. It is not just players/athletes who are vulnerable as referenced by IOC Agenda 2020+5. And the changing methods with which corruptors use to make contact (social media) and finance (crypto currency).
  7. The gambling industry may need to pay a significant share of the costs of tackling match-fixing. There is an argument for reallocating a portion of the taxes which betting companies already pay, at least in some markets.

Good governance

I Trust Sport is a sports governance consultancy dedicated to improving international sports governance and compliance through collaboration.

The company provides services to different types of client:

  • Federations and governing bodies – a straightforward, objective international federation governance assessment tool is available
  • Sponsors – helping sponsors to have a meaningful and responsible influence on the governance of the organisations they support to protect their investment
  • Institutions and government agencies – research and development work in the area of sports governance
  • Other organisations – open to collaboration with a range of other organisations in sport
  • Individuals – supporting individuals seeking to improve governance in sports organisations with which they are involved

Please note that this is a summary of several complex topics and is not intended to be fully comprehensive. See the separate pages on Doping, Match-fixing and Sports governance.

Feel free to contact us with any corrections or comments on the material above.

Updated January 2022.

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