Summer of corruption

By Andy Walsh

Summer is almost upon us, and with it comes a rush of enough sporting fixtures to satisfy even the most die-hard fans, from international and domestic cricket to the Australian Open, the A-League, and the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.

But is what the average punter sees from the stands at Flemington or on their screen at home an uncorrupted performance from team or individual?

Increasingly, the answer is no, according to Senior Lecturer and Director of Studies of the Melbourne Sports Law program, Hayden Opie. 

"Integrity is multifaceted. It is about honesty, it is playing by the rules, transparency, trustworthiness, not cheating, not stealing and fair play," Mr Opie says. 

"Awareness of these issues in sport has been taken to a new level in recent years. For example, although athletes have taken drugs for a very long time and it is a problem which has been actively addressed for over 50 years from a regulatory perspective, today there is a degree of scientific planning and sophistication accompanying doping which is without precedent. 

Sports have responded to doping and match-fixing by establishing integrity systems including rules and investigation and enforcement mechanisms. If someone is abusing that system in a serious way, then it is an issue of corruption.

The abuse of integrity has been well publicised in global media in recent years, notably the corruption of officials and associates of football's world governing body FIFA, cyclist Lance Armstrong's admission to doping, and a string of high-profile cricket match-fixing scandals in India and Pakistan.

Closer to home, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) and World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) ongoing case against Essendon Football Club's supplements program has been splashed across every media outlet in the country.

Senior legal counsel and head of integrity for Cricket Australia Iain Roy (BA 1994; LLB(Hons) 1996) says integrity issues are a serious threat to Australian sport.

"Integrity issues in a general sense threaten Australian sports like cricket in many ways. In particular, through the stressful impact on individual athletes which result from being connected to an integrity issue, and through the loss of confidence in a sport by the community and commercial supporters of that sport," he says.

Mr Opie attributes, in part, the advent of online betting to the rise of gambling-related match-fixing issues now receiving high-profile attention in professional sport. 

He says this "manipulation" traverses sport at all levels, and is often linked to money-laundering. 

"Gambling has been seen as a way of laundering money, and we are seeing serious attempts to fix either a match or a particular part of a match-spotfixing," he says. 

"It may not be top games but it might be games where the results are a foregone conclusion in a lesser league or lesser competition." 

Melbourne Law Masters graduate Abantee Dutta was a research associate of the committee investigating allegations of betting and match-fixing in the Indian Premier League, the sub-continent's billion-dollar cricketing showpiece. 

She believes the lure of money and success often proves overwhelming for some athletes or officials, which can attract the attention of organised crime syndicates. 

"A strategy used by crime syndicates has been to co-opt and 'groom' emerging players by their peers, who act as agents for organised crime syndicates to target such vulnerable players. Emerging players are also seen to be systemically 'groomed' from an early stage by being pampered with gifts and money, and subsequently asked to throw a 'big' match as a favour. There is also evidence of coercive threats being used by organised crime groups on players to engage in spot-fixing." 

Mr Opie says this situation can breed an inescapable cycle of bribery for athletes and officials playing outside of the rules. 

"If that happens once, you can be bought again because they have something on you. The same if you use prohibited or recreational drugs. You need a supplier, and if they are linked to organised crime, you are suddenly in much deeper than you thought," he says. 

Ms Dutta suggests the strategic implementation of a sustained and co-ordinated approach to counter the "deeply entrenched roots" of organised crime in sports such as cricket. 

"At present, all investigations into match-fixing and betting in cricket are isolated and scattered, as a result, sensitive data gets lost in navigating through conflicting laws of cricketing nations and bureaucratic channels," she says. 

"Such lapses and inco-ordination at the international level is exploited by organised crime syndicates to leverage benefits. Scattered, preventive approaches seen to be adopted by nations such as Australia, India and England will not help prevent the efficiently organised transnational character of match-fixing." 

Cricket Australia established a dedicated integrity unit nearly two years ago, which Mr Roy says implements a prevention-first approach and ensures its policies, processes and systems are as robust as possible. 

He believes that educating those involved in professional sport is the key to reducing corruption at the highest level. 

"At least in the corruption space, the external agents can be very good at what they do, and it can be easy for young, naïve players to fall into sticky situations," he says. 

"Critically, CA is placing an emphasis on educating players and relevant support personnel and building a strong 'prevention culture' across all of elite Australian cricket. 

"The task of protecting the game against integrity risks cannot just sit with the Integrity Unit or CA, but is the responsibility of all in Australian cricket." 

Corruption in sport runs deeper than an athlete taking prohibited substances, or a jockey underperforming in thoroughbred racing, or a cricketer providing bookies with pitch information. 

It has infiltrated the upper echelons of administration, as seen in the FIFA scandal that gripped world football earlier this year, where votes and hosting rights can potentially be bought for the right price. 

"Corruption is at an international level – some of the very large sports are awarding contracts for sponsorships and broadcasting rights, so it is in their commercial dealings. People are taking percentages to make sure contracts are awarded to the right people," Mr Opie says. 

Australia is not immune from corruption and integrity issues. However, Mr Opie says the problems abroad are far worse. 

Compared with elsewhere, the issues are not rampant. But we have got problems, and we have had problems.

He outlines incidents in Asia where Australians have been involved, and is advocating for cohesion among Asia Pacific nations to fight the growing problems. 

Mr Opie points to an occasion in Thailand when Japanese referees were offered bribes to umpire a game favourably; Japan subsequently assisted Thailand in a bid to improve standards and remove this sort of behaviour.

"There is a desperate need for countries of the region to start looking at this very seriously in a cooperative manner, and there are linguistic, cultural and legal challenges in that. There is a lot of work ahead, and the challenge is so great because the sums of money are massive," he says.

Mr Opie has sat on the Federal Government's independent Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel for almost five years.

When ASADA is ready to prosecute anti-doping violations, it must first take its case to the Panel for authority to proceed, which will be given if the evidence reveals possible violations. 

The cases of Essendon Football Club and former head of its controversial supplements program Stephen Dank both came before the Panel. 

"I believe the Government views it as adding an element of integrity to the process," Mr Opie says. 

It shows just how serious the Federal Government is taking corruption in sport issues; investigative bodies can now gain access to information from the Australian Crime Commission and Australian Border Force. 

"The anti-doping laws are becoming tougher, and the investigative capabilities of WADA and ASADA are growing, as they are given more powers," Mr Opie says. 

"We have new, largely nation-wide laws specifically to outlaw match-fixing and trade in inside information, and we are trying to tighten up the betting side of sport." 

This increased focus filters down to an education level, with Melbourne Law School at the forefront of this. 

The Law School's sports law program has run for almost three decades, and is now growing to cater for the demands of both potential students and sports industries. 

Two subjects in particular – Sports Integrity and Investigations, and Corruption in International Sport – have proved popular among lawyers and sport administrators alike. 

What we can do at the University is help develop and make sure our laws are adequate to deal with these problems, critique them, write reports. Teaching people about them is important, and we talk with law enforcement authorities and sporting bodies about areas they are working on

"Sport is becoming a bigger and bigger enterprise. Governments have a real interest in this and want to see the development and maintenance of expertise in this area. 

"Melbourne is the sporting capital of Australia, one of the great sporting cities in the world, so it is sensible that Melbourne's great university has a great sports law program."

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 14, October 2015.