UN: Corruption in Sport Worth $1.7 Trillion Annually

Published: 20 December 2023

Stadium Ball SoccerSoccer competitions are a hub for corruption, the UN found. FIFA executives developing programs and strategies to combat it. (Photo: PxHere, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

Illegal sports betting, manipulation of competitions, and the connection between organized crime and sports are the primary drivers of corruption in the sports world, estimated to be worth up to US$1.7 trillion annually, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

"Illegal betting is the number one factor fueling corruption in sport," stated James Porteous, head of research for the Asian Racing Federation's Illegal Betting and Related Financial Crime Council. He also highlighted the limitations of many regulations on the subject, as they are outdated and not suited to the online world.

The findings of UNODC's 2021 Global Report on Corruption in Sport were presented during the United Nations Convention against Corruption held in Atlanta, Georgia, from December 11 to 15. The conference brought together representatives, world leaders, policymakers, and NGO delegates from 190 countries to discuss combating global corruption.

Participants at the conference explained that sports manipulation, commonly known as 'match-fixing,' involves money laundering and other illegal activities. It also serves as a 'gateway to crime,' providing organized crime with opportunities for profit, such as extortion and illegal betting.

The focus was placed on soccer, considered the most corrupt sport. Numerous scandals involving the sport's governing body, FIFA, have kept the spotlight on soccer. In 2015, FIFA officials and executives were arrested at a Swiss hotel for their involvement in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption in international soccer.

“Football is a multi-billion dollar global industry, which makes it a potential target for corruption and other kinds of criminal activity, and that is something that we should avoid and combat,” said current FIFA President Gianni Infantino in a video for the conference. He mentioned that FIFA has developed more than 60 projects related to the fight against corruption, including the Global Integrity Program, addressing match-fixing through actions like training over 400 soccer integrity officers and government officials.

The UN release includes a guide developed by Interpol, UNODC, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to assist policymakers in dealing with and investigating the manipulation of competition.