Sport integrity: informing policy to tackle corruption in professional sports

Impact Area: Policy, Sports, Justice

Institution: University of Liverpool Management School

Leading Academic: Professor Ian McHale, Professor David Forrest, Dr Babatunde Buraimo


Match fixing has become commonplace. There has been a great increase in liquidity in betting markets allowing criminals to make more profit from fixing. This has drawn organised crime to operate syndicates operating on an industrial scale, threatening sport integrity. Several actors including governing bodies, player associations, betting regulators, police and governments seek to understand this threat and establish counter-measures. The Macolin Convention will mandate signatory countries to establish National Platforms for combatting fixing, requiring cooperation between these stakeholders.

Research by Professor Ian McHale, Professor David Forrest and Dr Babatunde Buraimo sought to enhance understanding of the sources of match fixing and to inform and assist in appropriate anti-corruption policies by stakeholders such as sports leagues, gambling regulators and law enforcement. Impacts include:

  • an evaluation of processes employed by UEFA and FIFA led to the researchers providing evidence in Court proceedings and subsequently to the exclusion of a club from the Champions League
  • development of policy at national/international level e.g. through reports for, and funded by, the European Commission
  • work with EU Athletes (European federation of player unions) in the design, delivery and evaluation of anti-corruption programmes.

Benefits and Impact

a)     Providing evidence to support sanctions against match fixers.

At the request of UEFA, Professors Forrest and McHale conducted and published a technical evaluation of the Fraud Detection System for identifying potentially manipulated matches in European leagues and elsewhere in 2015, whilst in 2016 Professor Forrest appeared as witness in a case at The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), where a club identified as having been involved in fixed matches was challenging UEFA’s decision to exclude it from the Champions League. The Court Judgement focused on the validity of the betting analysis, i.e. on the application of forensic statistics. The Panel upheld the action against the club, acknowledging that the findings of Professors Forrest and McHale supported that particular decision.

b)     Supporting player unions in their contribution to combatting fixing.

Professor Forrest and the University of Liverpool more generally have worked with EU Athletes to deliver anti-match fixing education through player union officials and the continued development and subsequent roll-out of a ‘red button’ system to enable and encourage players to report corruption while protecting them from reprisals.

c)     Informing (at national/international levels) development of policies to combat fixing, focusing particularly on parties responsible for applying provisions in the Macolin Convention.

The University of Liverpool was a partner with IRIS (Paris) between 2015 and 2017 in producing a Report for the European Commission on how to keep betting crime-free. In addition, full-day seminars were held in fourteen EU states to disseminate good practice and to encourage cooperation between invitees, including senior officials from the country’s police, sports ministry, betting operators and the regulator, and leaders of sport. Professor Forrest wrote a significant part of the Report, assisted in preparation of seminars, and delivered content to the national seminars in Denmark, Sweden and UK. Professor Forrest has also given invited briefing sessions and a webinar on fixing to stakeholders at national/international levels.

In 2017, Professor McHale was witness in a hearing at CAS where a referee was appealing against a life ban imposed by FIFA for fixing a World Cup qualifier by egregious decisions. The case was based on associated movements in betting odds, not on physical evidence. McHale assessed the quality of the evidence for the Court. The Court supported the life ban and, in response to the decision, FIFA ordered the match to be replayed.