During 2018, a number of media reports highlighted the reluctance or resistance of governing bodies overseeing various professional sports to confront the problem of corruption aggressively. In soccer, FIFA – despite an undeniable history of corruption that reached the highest levels of the sport – saw fit to delete the word “corruption” from its code of ethics. In professional tennis, it took an independent panel, after a two-year inquiry, to inform multiple tennis associations that a “tsunami” of match-fixing had reportedly become “endemic” across lower levels of the sport. In Major League Baseball (MLB), MLB severed its ties with the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol (LMB) because of professed concerns about corruption and fraud, but reportedly only “after years of complaints failed to effect change” in the LMB. Subsequently, Sports Illustrated reported that the United States Department of Justice “has begun a sweeping probe into possible corruption tied to [MLB teams’] recruitment of international players, centered on potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”
There are, however, other international sports associations that are demonstrating more timely and meaningful responses to corruption and fraud within their sports. In professional cricket, after an Al-Jazeera journalist reported that evidence had been uncovered reflecting “corruption at the highest levels of cricket,” the general manager of International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport’s governing body, confirmed that the ICC “is investigating and called for the full co-operation of Al Jazeera.”
In professional badminton, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) recently upheld a ruling by its Ethics Hearing Panel that a former BWF Council member, Raj Gaya, would be banned from “performing any function in badminton for life” and be fined $50,000, based on his diversion and use of BWF funds for his personal benefit. Gaya had told BWF officials that “he had used the funds for ‘badminton related expenses’, as well as ‘political reasons’ including ‘to get African people on his side’.”
Gaya is not the first individual this year that the BWF has severely sanctioned for corruption-related activities In May 2018, in the first case of its kind for the BWF, the BWF banned two Malaysian players for 15 and 20 years respectively, and fined them $15,000 and $25,000 respectively, for match-fixing.
Such reports of demonstrated commitment to combating corruption are always welcome news. It remains to be seen whether these latter sports will sustain that commitment or lapse into complacency over time as they grow in popularity and profitability.