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Sports Corruption

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By Karen L. Jones, JD, MA


Academic programme coordinator International and European sports law

T.M.C. Asser Instituut.


Sports Corruption (match-fixing) a Continuing International Problem, a Time for New Solutions.

Sports corruption and particularly match-fixing continues to be a significant problem in Europe and many parts of the world.  As a Researcher/Academic Programme Coordinator at T.M.C. Asser Instituut, Asser International Sports Law Centre, and a PhD candidate, I have chosen to examine the problem from an inter-disciplinary approach.

A European Commission report on match-fixing, included the following working definition of match-fixing:

“The manipulation of sports results covers the arrangement on an irregular alteration of the course or the result of a sporting competition or any of its particular events (e.g. matches, races…) in order to obtain financial advantage, for oneself or for other, and remove all or part of the uncertainty normally associated with the results of a competition.”[1]

Although there still is no single authoritative definition of match-fixing, in its most basic form, match-fixing can be defined as, the act of losing, or playing to a pre-determined result, in sports matches by illegally manipulating the results in your favor.

With increasing frequency, it seems the reports on incidences of suspected match-fixing or new investigations into match-fixing continue to rise.  This can be attributed to new cases of match-fixing, new investigations being kicked-off, or the fact that investigations into match-fixing are often lengthy and prolonged.  Much of this was summarized earlier this year (February 2013) when the head of Europol, Rob Wainright, announced the results of their eighteen month covert joint investigation into international football (soccer) match-fixing activities which led them to trace much of the activities to organized crime, in particular, a single criminal syndicate out of Singapore.[2]  The recent arrests of 14 individuals by Singapore police believed to be part of the organized crime group associated with match-fixing globally[3] and more arrests expected[4], is a very clear indication that despite significant efforts by Europol, INTERPOL and others, the problem of match-fixing persists.

There is little doubt that match-fixing is a wide-spread problem, and affects all levels of sport (all stakeholders).  The laws that are in place at the national, European and international levels are not sufficient.  Many national laws are being revised or new laws established to address this problem.  Criminal sanctions are being looked at to ensure that the penalties for those involved in match-fixing are increased so that the criminals do not attempt to set up shop in places where the laws, sanctions or enforcement is lax.

Sports organizations (ex. UEFA, FIFA, etc.) are often looked at as having the responsibility for governing the arena of sport – attributed to their regulatory authority over a particular area of sport, and ability to sanction – has not been very effective in preventing match-fixing.   With the recent announcements about this widespread problem and ongoing investigations (amongst other things), there seems to be a loss of confidence (if it ever truly existed) that sports organizations alone can effectively contribute to its resolution.

With my research, I take an inter-disciplinary approach to the problem of sports corruption (match-fixing) by analyzing it from a sociological new institutionalism theory perspective particularly as it relates to private decentralized institutions, such as international sports organizations. A generalized inter-disciplinary new institutionalism theory perspective suggests that institutional constraints impact the decisions that individuals make.[5]  Further, that within the constraints of institutions individual interests are still pursued[6] and the issue of “credible commitments” arises out of opportunities that emerge from within these constraints.[7]   My research considers these issues by applying the norms established through formalized legal systems as a means of challenging those established institutions and/or exposing gaps that may offer an explanation for the proliferation of the problem.  Since it is necessary to understand the types of sports corruption that exist, as well as the distinction between sports corruption and corruption in sport, to facilitate better understanding of the complexities of these two converging themes, I am also developing a typography of sports corruption.  Also critical to my analysis is defining sports in terms of a comprehensive organization, thus allowing analysis of it as a single organism with various characteristics that contribute to the whole, with particular focus on the external governance structure (impacts of external agencies, government, laws, policy) and issues of accountability and autonomy; versus internal governance initiatives (codes, integrity boards, practices, etc.).  However, some reference is made to both as they are often intertwined.  Principles of governance and organizational analysis are an important foundational theme for my research.  Using this foundation I create a framework by extracting relevant criteria based on new institutionalism theory, appropriate laws and governance practices that can be applied to international sports organizations and aid in the prevention of sports corruption.  For organizational analysis purposes, I then apply this framework to two (2) international sports organizations, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the International Olympic (IOC), as these are leading international sports organizations yet each having unique characteristics.

At Asser International Sports Law Centre, we have a regular Lunch & Learn series, as well as several seminars, roundtables and our annual Summer Programme that addresses many issues, including sports corruption, that arise within the context of sports law.  Our International Sports Law Journal, now published by Asser Press and Springer-Verlag publishing, as well as the Asser Press Sports Law Book Series are great resources for international and European perspectives on contemporary, inter-disciplinary and emerging trends in sports law.  For more information on all of our offerings, please visit our website and sign-up for our mailing list at



Sports Law

[1] European Commission Study, Match-Fixing in Sports: A Mapping of Criminal Law Provisions in EU 27 (March 2012), p 9.

[2] Update – Results from the largest football match-fixing investigation in Europe/Europl, 3 February 2013, The Hague, The Netherlands,

[3] Singapore police arrest 14 in match-fixing raids, BBC News Asia, 19 September 2013,

[4] Expect more arrests in match-fixing case: Europol, Singapore Law Watch, 24 September 2013,

[5] Ingram, P. and Clay, K., The Choice- Within-Constraints New Institutionalism and Implications for Sociology, Annual Review of Sociology, 2000, 26:525-46.

[6] Id. at 526.

[7] Id. at 528.

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