Switzerland’s capital role in the fight against corruption in sport

Professor Jean-Loup Chappelet at Play the Game 2011 in Cologne. Photo (c) Tine Harden/Play the Game


By Jean-Loup Chappelet
Earlier this month the Swiss government published a report on corruption in sport with proposals on possible measures to combat the problem. This article by Jean-Loup Chappelet, professor of public management at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) in Lausanne looks into the perspectives the report raises for sport organisations as well as for Switzerland.

As the seat of more than half the Olympic Sports Federations, the IOC, and many other umbrella organizations (SportAccord, ANOC, etc.) that play a fundamental role in the governance of world sport, Switzerland is directly concerned by corruption in sport. Several speeches in parliament have raised awareness of this vast issue among the members of Switzerland’s Government (Federal Council), which has just published a 68-page report on the subject (drafted by the Federal Office for Sport). The report provides an overview of the problem and proposes a number of measures for combating sports corruption that will prevent the country coming under criticism. What perspective does this raise?

There are so many different aspects to sports corruption that it is difficult to provide a short and comprehensive definition. The various forms of corruption include the rigging of sports event bidding procedures or elections to important positions in federations, the payment of kickbacks for the construction of sports facilities or the signing of sponsorship and broadcasting contracts, and the manipulation of competitions or match fixing, whether or not related to betting. Although the Federal Council’s report does not explicitly mention the two categories, it divides sport corruption into two main types: corruption on the field of play and corruption off the field of play.

Corruption off the field of play
Corruption off the field of play concerns the managers and elected members of sport organizations. It is closely linked to the governance of these organizations, most of which are not-for-profit associations without strong legal obligations. The Federal Council’s report notes the anti-corruption efforts that have already been made by the IOC and FIFA and the reforms these two governing bodies still need to carry out. It presents the legal instruments available in Switzerland to combat private corruption, most notably, the criminal code, the federal law on unfair competition and the UN, OECD and Council of Europe ad hoc conventions that Switzerland has ratified.

Since Article 102 of the criminal code was modified in 2005, sport organizations with commercial activities are criminally liable for active corruption by their managers if they have not introduced suitable organizational measures to prevent such acts. This should encourage international sport bodies to review their governance, which the report judges rudimentary and ill-suited to the growing demands of world sport. The report also suggests that the advantageous status enjoyed by international sport governing bodies, especially in terms of taxation, may no longer be justified if they do not improve their governance.

In addition, the report maintains that the ongoing amendments to legislation demanded by the Council of Europe (not specifically for sport) will strengthen the fight against sports corruption off the field, if they are passed by Parliament. These amendments may involve considering umbrella sports organizations in the same way as other international organizations. In particular, this would allow Swiss prosecutors to pursue cases of corruption without a complaint being filed (as is already the case in several European countries), even if the corruption has only an indirect link to a situation involving economic competition.

Corruption on the field of play
Corruption on the field of play concerns athletes, their entourage and sometimes judges/referees. It involves cheating with respect to the rules of the sport in order to win (doping), to lose voluntarily (tanking), or to manipulate part of a competition (spot-fixing). The Federal Council’s report focuses on the manipulation of results in relation to irregular or illegal betting. On this issue, and despite opposition from some states (UK, Scandinavian countries), the report pins its hopes on the Council of Europe Convention that is currently being formulated.

Within Switzerland, the report recommends that measures to combat illegal betting should be included in the amendments being drawn up to the country’s lotteries act. It notes that it is currently impossible to impose criminal sanctions for manipulating sports results, except, possibly, through article 146 of the criminal code on swindle. However, this route seems to have been blocked by a recent decision of the federal criminal court, which acquitted a number of footballers who had been given sporting sanctions for fixing matches. The court even went as far as awarding the footballers compensation.

Consequently, the report proposes introducing the offence of “sports fraud”, probably as part of the recent federal law to promote sport and physical activity, as has been done in countries such as France and Italy in order to preserve sport’s integrity and the vital financial support sport receives from lotteries. This new offence will allow criminal sentences to be handed down for manipulating sports results. The report stresses that introducing such a criminal offense (to be managed by the Confederation) will have an impact on fraud in the form of doping, which is not a criminal offense for sportspeople in Switzerland, only for their entourage and for suppliers of doping products (responsibility of the cantons).

A universally accepted definition of sports manipulation
There is an obvious link between all these forms of corruption on the field, which increasingly involve organized crime (for trafficking or money laundering) and which require both strong international cooperation (as for the World Anti-Doping Agency) and standardized measures to combat the manipulation of results from sport organizations. The problem will be to achieve a universally accepted definition of sports manipulation, whether or not it is related to betting, whether or not it affects the final result.

At London 2012, the International Badminton Federation expelled players who had voluntarily lost matches in order to be better placed in the following round. On the other hand, FIFA did nothing to sanction a similar practice during the Olympic football tournament. Such practices occurred in six other sports in London (athletics, basketball, beach volley, boxing, cycling, swimming). Suitable competition formats and means of obtaining incontestable proof are required in order to prevent this happening again. To this end, an international sport betting monitoring agency should be set up to replace the half-dozen existing systems listed in the Federal Council’s report. Such an agency could also harmonize sports regulations in this field and strictly enforce the new “betting rights” conceded to operators.

The Federal Council’s report highlights the failure of international sport organizations to introduce effective self-regulation measures against corruption. Consequently, self-regulation must be supplemented by changes to Swiss law. On a European level, decisive progress may be made at the conference of ministers responsible for sport that Switzerland will host in 2014.

This conference may allow the convention against manipulation of sports results to be adopted and enable a major step to be taken towards achieving an integrated fight against corruption in sport by developing partnerships between public authorities and sport organizations at all levels. 

Read the Swiss government's report in full:
In French
In German

Read also:

A news brief on the report:
Swiss Federal Council approves report on stronger rules on sports fraud

An overview on the Swiss regulatory framework on fiscal and corruption issues by Michaël Mrkonjic from the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) in Lausanne:
The Swiss Regulatory Framework and International Sports Organisations

Jean-Loup Chappelet and IDHEAP are also part of the project 'Action for Good Governance in International Sports Organisations (AGGIS)' researching how international sports organisations can improve their governance and strengthen their credibility.

Read more about the project on the AGGIS theme page.

See an overview of the different research produced by the AGGIS partners.


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