PtG Article 16.11.2011

New study claims doping is bigger threat to sport than match-fixing

A new report from the British Coventry University’s International Centre for the Business of Sport (CIBS) finds that corruption in sport is dominated by doping, equating to nearly 96 per cent of all cases, and that betting and non-betting related match-fixing make up less than three per cent of corruption cases.

Current debate and media coverage of corruption in sport focus mainly on issues of bribery and vote rigging in major international sports organisations, but the research undertaken at Coventry University is based on a different understanding of corruption that focuses mainly on the athletes.

The report defines corruption as "any illegal, immoral or unethical activity that attempts to deliberately distort the result of a sporting contest (or any element of it) for the personal material gain of one or more parties involved in that activity". 

Based on this definition, the researchers have compiled a database with 2,089 proven cases of corruption in sport in the 10 year period from 2000 to 2010. The database includes cases of corruption, match-fixing related to betting, non-betting related match-fixing and mis-use of inside information.

In order to be included in the database, athletes would either have to have failed a drugs test or been given a ban or public warning from their governing body.  For match-fixing cases, a judicial judgement and/or a judgement by the sport’s governing body has determined that corruption has taken place. 

Doping is sixty times more likely

The  report shows that, globally, the number of cases of proven match-fixing (57) is far outweighed by the number of proven doping cases (1998 cases). Statistically speaking, a proven case of doping was sixty times more likely than betting related match-fixing during the period from 2000-2010.

The report has been undertaken on behalf of the leading players in the remote gambling sector: the Remote Gambling Association (RGA), European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) and the European Sports Security Association (ESSA). 

According to the press release about the report, the findings are of particular interest to the licensed betting industry "given the increasing and unsubstantiated comments that match-fixing is a greater risk to sport than doping and that match-fixing is predominantly betting related, which as the report finds, is far from the truth."

Clive Hawkswood, Chief Executive of the RGA, stated that: “We are not complacent about match-fixing, quite the opposite in fact. However, this research categorically demonstrates that the level and frequency of betting related match-fixing (1.5 per cent) is in no way comparable to the problem of doping in sport (96 per cent).”

Match-fixing flies under the radar

The question is, however, whether the report reflects the true level of match-fixing when it only includes instances of proven match-fixing. Last month, Declan Hill, one of the world's leading experts on match-fixing, told the 2011 Play the Game conference about a new trend in match-fixing where digital technology allows almost anyone to fix and bet on a sports match. 

"Now, with the choice of gambling sites in Europe – onshore / offshore – Asia, North America, the Caribbean, Gibraltar, Cyprus, using the Internet or phone – the bettors and fixers have a massive choice to hide their fixing activities," Hill told conference delegates.

Hill explained that often players and club officials in fixed matches will place bets on the expected outcome.

"This is what is going on in leagues across Europe by players and club officials. Why do you think there are so many fixed matches in early rounds of Champions League? Because organized criminals have come to the Balkans to fix matches? Partly that is true. But partly it is because the local club officials themselves know that fixing is a good way to make money." 

According to Hill, the majority of these bets will fly under the radar.

"Not a single person in the gambling market will notice. Why should they? Bets for a much stronger team to defeat a much weaker team? They are what the market expects. That is what most fixes are about, just delivering certainty. No one will notice," he said.

Read the report (pdf): The Prevalence of Corruption in International Sport.

Read Declan Hill's speech to the 2011 Play the Game conference on his blog.

Read Declan Hill's comment piece on the report.