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RKN Global on Corruption in Sports

Having established the universal pull of corruption across societies and areas of human endeavor, and having examined examples of how corruption can manifest itself in government and in business, it should come as no surprise that corruption can infect an area of tremendous interest and importance to people around the world: sports.

Sports are an integral part of the national and social fabric of countries the world over.  The final game of the recent baseball World Series, win which the Chicago Cubs won the pennant for the first time in over a century, was seen by more than 40 million people.  Turning to the world’s most popular sport, soccer, the 2014 World Cup featured one billion viewers.

RKN Global’s Ronald K. Noble notes that corruption can affect any sport, at any level.  The numerous opportunities for illicit profit make sports a prime target for crime.

Because of their popularity, sports attract the interest and attention not just of fans, but also of elements interested in corrupting the game for their own interests. For example, criminals try to manipulate gambling markets by changing the outcome of play in a sporting event.  By corrupting a player, or even several players on a team, the match-fixer can ensure a result that is the subject of betting odds, and then make a windfall profit by betting on the pre-rigged outcome.

Any level of competition is fair game.  In recent weeks, the world football organization FIFA began an investigation into possible match-fixing in a qualifying match for the World Cup.   The October 13 contest between Lithuania and Malta, in which Lithuania won 2-0, featured two goals in quick succession by Lithuania very late in the game, which was especially suspicious in light of indications of disproportionate betting on a Lithuania victory by two or more goals.

Ronald K. Noble, founder of RKN Global, emphasizes that it is still too early to know for sure whether the Lithuania-Malta qualifier involved corruption and match-fixing.  What is certain, however, is that match-fixing in professional soccer as well as in sports around the world is all too common. 

In recent years, sports governing bodies, law enforcement, and even national legislatures have begun taking steps to combat the harms of match-fixing. To understand why, we will examine in future posts more about the mechanism of this crime and the harm that it causes.