Corruption in sport continues to pose challenges for researchers

Professor Simon Chadwick

Posted: July 18, 2014

This piece is the Editorial from Volume 4, Issue 1 of the Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal

Some people say that a week in politics is a long time; others say that 90 minutes in football can seem like a lifetime. It has therefore been a significant length of time since the last edition of this journal, during which there have been some dramatic developments in sport. Among the most significant, and possibly the most serious, have been emerging and on-going issues related to corruption in sport.

In snooker, former world ranked number 5 player Steven Lee was banned from the sport for twelve years having been found guilty of match-fixing. Football continues to be awash with allegations about match-fixing, including Europol’s investigation into 425suspected cases in football, and the international pursuit of alleged ‘super-fixer’ Dan Tan. Off the fields and tracks of the world, the Federation Internationale de Football (FIFA) has continued to grapple with seemingly interminable problems of corruption, while the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has been dealing with accusations both of bribery and of vote-fixing.

Over the least five years, matters of corruption in sport have become especially pointed as some organisations across the industry have started to respond to proven cases of corruption. For instance, sport merchandiser Puma recently terminated a supply agreement with the South African national football team. Meanwhile, Dutch bank ING withdrew sponsorship from the Benetton Formula 1 Grand Prix team following the team’s fixing of a race in 2008. In response to several problems in professional cycling, Australian sportswear brand Skins has alternatively taken the opportunity to use the problems as the basis for repositioning its brand (as being at the forefront of clean sport, through the ‘Change Cycling Now’ initiative).

Corruption in sport is not a new phenomenon; however, it appears that rapid changes in the industry, most notably the commercialisation of sport and a resultant influx of revenues seem to have exacerbated the problem. The seriousness of the matter has been further compounded by the intense scrutiny that sport organisations are exposed to (especially following the emergence of social media), by growing economic inequalities in sport (which incentivise poorly rewarded athletes to fix contests or accept bribes), and by often weak approaches among sport organisations to issues of governance and risk management.

Immediately, these initial observations generate some key challenges for sport business researchers. The nature, scale and extent of corruption in sport are major issues, as is the potential cost for the sport industry of corruption. While many of us would probably be accurate in our assessment about the origins of and motives for corruption in sport, thus far we have developed little accurate understanding of the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of it.

Similarly, little attention has thus far been given to the responses to corruption of organisations engaged in some way with sport. How the threat of corruption is mitigated and managed implies some interesting opportunities for risk managers and those with an interest in, for example, governance, economic inequality or event management. Whether it is a moral stance, a response to consumer disquiet or an unwillingness to associate with illegal activity, the responses of key stakeholders also raises some important issues. For example, issues of partner selection, relationship termination, brand damage and market response would appear to be just some of the areas upon which academic researchers might want to focus.

In previous work on corruption in sport, Maening (2005) distinguishes between competition corruption and management corruption. The former generally covers activities that undermine, diminish or detract from the uncertainty of outcome and includes activities like match-fixing. The latter generally covers activities related to the governance, organisation and management of sport like vote-rigging in governing body elections.

Around Maening’s classification, there are several issues: for example, is doping a form of fixing and should it fall within such classifications (which thus far it has not)? New forms of fixing have emerged in recent years, most notably spot-fixing (the fixing of a specific action in a sporting contest – like the time of a corner or throw-in – but which does not affect the final outcome of the contest), which poses challenges in terms of understanding, defining and managing them. Moreover, money laundering is now often identified as being one reason that business people invest in sport. If this assessment is correct, then how such activity impacts upon sport and its management would seem to be a pressing matter for the research community to address.

What corruption is currently costing the sport industry is something nobody yet has a sense of. This is a concern, as the costs of monitoring and controlling corruption, the misappropriation or misuse of funds and the withdrawal of commercial partners (and their funding) undermines the economic and commercial security of sport. Clearly therefore, there is an opportunity for researchers to begin the task of estimating the economic, financial and business implications of corruption. Beyond this, understanding, creating and researching measures for mitigating threat would seem to be a priority.

Given the absolute paucity of published studies in the field of sport corruption, particularly from a business and management perspective, the research agenda is currently an open field. Among major research studies currently being undertaken in universities, two appear notable: how sponsors respond to corruption in sport, and how consumers respond to corruption in sport. Further studies of this and a similar nature are important: as an opportunity for researchers, and also as a foundation for maintaining the integrity of sport.

IMaening, W. (2005), Corruption in International Sports and Sport Management: Forms, Tendencies, Extent and Countermeasures, European Sport Management Quarterly, Vol. 5, pp. 187-225.

About Professor Simon Chadwick

Professor Simon Chadwick set-up and edits The Scorecard. He is Director of CIBS (Centre for the International Business of Sport) at Coventry University, where he works as Professor of Sport Business Strategy and Marketing.  Simon tweets via Prof_Chadwick