Tennis is now the latest sport in the spotlight, following allegations in an investigation by the BBC and BuzzFeed, of a match-fixing and gambling scandal involving a core group of 16 players, all of whom have ranked in the top 50 in the world. Some of these players are currently competing in the Australian Open championship. This investigation has put the tennis authorities, and the 'Tennis Integrity Unit' in the firing line, and as you would expect they deny that they have failed to act in the face of allegations of corruption.
Yet the truth is that in tennis, and most other major sports, only a small amount of resource is invested in fighting corruption. They are simply no match for the organised crime gangs, international gambling syndicates, and greedy dishonest officials. Sports governance has become a wild west, but we need more than a lone ranger to combat it.
Sports leaders have simply not invested enough in protecting the integrity of their competitions. Sadly, the members of these ruling executives seem typically to fall into three broad categories when it comes to corruption. Firstly, the blissfully ignorant who ask no questions, secondly those who know there is a problem but don't know what to do about it, and finally the wrongdoers themselves. There are a few noble exceptions who try to lobby within their sport for more resources and action against criminality, but they often end up resigning in disgust.
If we are going to clean up international sport we need a totally different approach, requiring more investment, partnership between sports and co-operation with international law enforcement agencies. At the heart of this should be a new Sports Crime Unit, employing specialists with deep understanding and experience of how organised crime seeks to exploit sport.
Gambling syndicates looking to buy off sportsmen and administrators in order to fix outcomes in matches, and the eventual results, are unlikely to limit themselves to one sport. In the same way, someone looking to launder money through sporting contracts, may well be involved in other areas of financial crime. Law enforcement agencies, like the Serious Fraud Office in the UK, should also consider whether they need to bring in more specialist resources with expertise in sports crime. We should treat international sports crime as one of the major global challenges for tackling corruption and resource the fight against it accordingly.
As well as extra investment in the detection of sports crime, there should also be internationally recognised standards for the governance of major sports. What the recent scandals at FIFA and the IAAF, have in common is very weak governance. There was no real scrutiny of the actions of senior executives, and no effective internal mechanism for people to challenge the organisation over its failure to act against corruption. There needs to be proper independent scrutiny of and reporting on sports bodies, including how they investigate allegations of corruption and how their money is spent. There also need to be proper integrity checks for people who have leadership roles in sport, from those who sit on the international executive bodies, to people who have leadership roles at the national level and in major sports clubs.
Damian Collins is the Conservative MP for Folkestone & Hythe, and the co-founder of New FIFA Now
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