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Corruption in sport: a “gold rush” with the law left behind



With over 40 years of professional police service, much of it in the field of international law enforcement and integrity issues, Chris Eaton is one of the world’s leading experts on corruption in sport. He has worked with State and Federal police in his home country, Australia, with INTERPOL, and FIFA, and currently serves as Director of Sport Integrity at the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) in Qatar.

Ahead of the MINEPS V conference in Berlin, Eaton explains how corruption has now become a global problem and why concerted action is needed to combat it.

UNESCO: MINEPS V has a big focus on corruption in sport. What is the nature of this problem today, and how is it evolving?

Internationally, sport is big business and a definable global economy of itself, having grown enormously over the past 15 years.  However the governance of sport has not evolved with anything like the talent and commitment devoted to its marketing and promotion.  This effectively positions sport as a “big and juicy”, yet immature and naive plum for the greedy, the unscrupulous and the criminal.  As a result, corruption of sport today is also big, global and organised.

“Traditional” match fixing, such as cooperation between “friendly” teams to avoid relegation or between “unfriendly” teams to force relegation, together with the occasional opportunistic gambling conspiracy by a few players or a referee, is now absolutely over-shadowed by criminals – including organised crime – infiltrating sport to serially corrupt results for betting fraud purposes.  This is a relatively new development, driven primarily by an exploding international sports-gambling economy, and introduces crime challenges that sport alone can never prevent.

The primary problem in this - as sport marches on with global marketing and sponsorship and at the same time demands its independence - is that neither basic nor best-practice international business principles are adequately if ever applied by many to their governance or competitions.  It's like a "gold rush", with the law being left behind.

Why has it become such a major political and social issue worldwide?

In any global search for the best individual opportunities and socially coherent instruments, international sport is always and by far seen as the most significant.

However, if the current trend to corruption in sport continues, the basic characteristics of sport will quite likely change considerably for the worse. Left unchecked, it will erode public confidence in the power of sport to create equal opportunities for individuals or to build respect and pride between societies.  And this would be an enduring legacy and indictment of our time.

Why was the issue not addressed from the outset?

For three reasons:  First, because for the most part sport did not recognise or acknowledge that it had a problem until it had mushroomed extensively globally. Second, because beyond passionate and convincing rhetoric, the proposed solutions from sport address only part of the problem, and do not address the core structural and jurisdictional weaknesses inside and outside sport, that have enabled it manifest in the first place. Third, because betting, live betting especially, on sport has grown exponentially over the last decade in parallel with the growth of global communications and media.

What can governments do about it? Do you have any examples of effective government action against corruption in sport?

Governments are responsible for two critical issues here – the countering of international organized crime and protecting societies’ most vulnerable members, especially children and young persons. Some governments and organizations provide excellent examples of responsible action already underway:

Australia for clear and focused multi-jurisdictional legislation on the misuse of sport and gambling, and for the creation of a national investigation coordination mechanism into sport corruption in the country;

Korea for its cross-sport and multi-agency national response to corruption identified in several sports during the same period;

Germany for the so-called “Bochum investigation”, which was the first to apply an anti-organized crime response to what they identified as an organized crime problem;

The UK for a robust internal almost cultural resistance to corruption within sport and for effective gambling oversight and for betting operator cooperation with sport and law enforcement;

China for taking swift action on corruption in their football organization and applying strong and telling crime sanctions;

Russia for its recognition at the highest levels that it has a problem and for its new anti-match fixing legislation as it prepares for the Winter Olympics and the World Cup;

Qatar for creating an independent and neutral not-for-profit organization focused on sport security, safety and integrity, my organization “the ICSS”, which has filled a surprising international gap;

INTERPOL for partnering with sport to provide a law enforcement profile to awareness and preventative training of players, officials and administrators;

The Pieth Committee into FIFA Governance which has recommended a vigorous platform of governance and related reforms in football.  These are a good model for the reform of all sport bodies in this environment; and

SportAccord for joining all sport in a common policy framework and for its on-line anti-corruption training package.

Taken separately none of these examples would work internationally.  Taken collectively, applied vigorously and globally, they would.

What can intergovernmental organizations (such as UNESCO) do about it?

UNESCO is well placed to cohere and focus the international debate on sport corruption through the unique forum of the sports ministers, and to facilitate the development of an international protective mechanism.

What do you expect from  MINEPS V?

There is a high level of international awareness today. There is considerable public and media disquiet about it, and accordingly political will and energy to address it.  What’s missing is the  global leadership that facilitates global solutions.  Even the best national and regional solutions will be undone by any gaps and hostilities within the global network.

I would expect that MINEPS V to either provide that global leadership or to ignite it elsewhere within governments.

Interview by Sue Williams