Manipulation of sports competitions

Manipulation of sport competitions means an intentional arrangement, act or omission aimed at an improper alteration of the result or the course of a sport competition in order to remove the unpredictable nature of the aforementioned sport competition with a view to obtaining an undue advantage for oneself or for others. Most of the time, manipulation of sports competitions is about money.

Manipulation of sports competitions may be based on betting or sports. The aim of betting-related manipulation is to obtain direct or indirect financial returns through betting. Direct financial return refers to the amount of money obtained through betting and indirect financial return refers to the benefit obtained, for example, through money laundering. The aim of sports-based manipulation is to gain a competitive advantage through unfair means. The goal may be, for example, to win or lose a meaningful match or to avoid relegation or gain promotion. 

Frequency of manipulation of sports competitions

The prevalence of manipulation of sports competitions is difficult to estimate accurately as, like other criminal and dishonest activities, most cases of manipulation of sports competitions take place in disguise. This phenomenon is known as hidden criminality, and the revealed cases of manipulation in sports competitions are probably just the tip of the iceberg. In Finland, a few cases and suspicions of manipulation of sports competitions occur annually. It is estimated that hundreds of sports competitions are manipulated internationally every year. 

Prevalence of manipulation of sports competitions and international betting markets

The increase in manipulation of sports competitions has led in particular to the growth of sports betting as a major economic activity. Currently, it is possible to place bets on all types of competitions and sports anywhere in the world any time of the day. In the 2010s, cash flows in sports betting amounted to hundreds of billions of euros. 

In addition to regulated and legal sports betting, illegal markets have also grown significantly in recent years. The strong growth of the sports betting market also attracts criminals and criminal organisations. The majority of illegal betting takes place in South and East Asia. 

Sports related to manipulation of sports competitions

Manipulation of sports competitions takes place in both amateur and professional sports. Most of the cases of manipulation in Europe and the Nordic countries are targeted at lower leagues and smaller competitions. Internationally known cases have occurred in the recent years, especially in football, but also, for example, in tennis, cricket, equestrian sports, motor sport, handball, rugby and basketball. 

In Finland, cases of betting-related manipulation have emerged especially in the 2000s. Cases that have come to light in recent years are largely concentrated in football. 

Consequences of the manipulation of sports competitions 

Manipulation of sports competitions is considered to be a particularly harmful phenomenon in sports due to its direct effect on the basic values of sports, such as unpredictability and unexpectedness If confidence in the unpredictable nature of sport is undermined, this causes a credibility problem at the heart of the whole sport. This means that the manipulation can have a long-term impact on sports and sports organisations. These problems are mainly accumulated on the economic side, as the size of sponsorship revenues, TV rights, advertising revenues and ticketing revenues largely depends on the opinion of audiences and the public. Manipulation of sports competitions is widely regarded as reprehensible.

Manipulation of sports competitions risk factors

Studies have identified various risk factors that may predispose to manipulation of sports competitions. Firstly, corrupt countries are more susceptible to manipulation of sports competitions than countries with lower levels of corruption. Individual sports and individual athletes are easier to manipulate than entire teams. In addition to the players and individual athletes, referees who have a lot of power to influence the progress of matches are an attractive target for manipulation of sports competitions. Athletes, especially young people, who are aiming for the top level may be more vulnerable than others. Economic factors, such as payroll problems, have been identified as having a significant impact on manipulation of sports competitions. With regard to the level of competition, the highest risk of manipulation of sports competitions appears to be at the lowest league levels, where remuneration levels are low and supervision is poor. It has also been found that top athletes are susceptible to gambling and thus to gambling problems. 

Prevention of manipulation of sports competitions

The prevention of manipulation of sports competitions is a key part of FINCIS’ activities. In Finland, the prevention of manipulation of sports competitions includes co-operation between the sports community, the government-owned betting company, the police and judicial authorities. In 2020, the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture appointed an advisory board of sport ethics, which functions as a coordination and co-operation body between the various administrative sectors and stakeholders in sports. The advisory board aims to promote sports ethics and the enactment of any related international agreements. 

The advisory board has appointed a National Platform to act as the national contact point under the Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions. The methods of preventing manipulation of sports competitions can be divided into three themes, which are rules and legislation, raising awareness and improving and monitoring resources and intelligence and investigations. The international nature of manipulation of sports competitions requires both national and transnational co-operation in combating it. 

Legislation related to manipulation of sports competitions in Finland

There is no legislation specifically designed to address manipulation of sports competitions in Finland So far, cases of manipulation of sports competitions have usually been dealt with through provisions concerning bribery in business. In 1998, people were convicted of fraud offences in the baseball match-fixing scandal but, since then, the investigation and conviction of manipulation of sports competitions crimes have mainly been limited to ‘giving or acceptance of a bribe in business’. In FINCIS’ view, chapter 36 of the Criminal Code of Finland (on fraud and other violation) should be supplemented with the crime classification: fraud in sports