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Fighting organized crime in sports

Che Sidanius
Che Sidanius
Global Head of Financial Crime & Industry Affairs / Member of the Coalition to Fight Financial Crime at Refinitiv

A new Europol report shines a spotlight on the complex web of inter-connectivity between organized crime and sports corruption. The analysis underscores the importance of screening and due diligence in detecting risk and fighting financial crime.


  1. The global betting market across all sports is estimated to be worth $2 trillion per year. Criminals target many sports, but the most popular target is football.
  2. Corruption in sport in turn facilitates financial crime, including money laundering, on an international scale. Screening and due diligence can help companies fight back. Refinitiv’s enhanced due diligence (EDD) reports deliver detailed background information on any third-party, anywhere in the world.
  3. Public-private sector collaboration in developing a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary response to financial crime in sport is of critical importance.

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Situation report: The involvement of organised crime groups in sports corruption by Europol seeks to uncover the links between organized crime groups (OCGs) and widespread sports corruption on a transnational level.

Corruption, especially match-fixing, is often of poly-criminal nature. This means that criminals frequently exploit the sector for both sports corruption and money laundering purposes.

The size of the global betting market across all sports is close to $2 trillion per year

The size of the global betting market across all sports is estimated to be an eye-watering $2 trillion per year, with football topping the list as the most targeted sport. Where OCGs are not in full control of clubs, players that cooperate with criminal networks go from one club to another to facilitate match fixing.

And it’s not just football. Match-fixing in tennis is on the rise, while OCGs have also targeted a range of other sports, including basketball, handball, beach volleyball, and ice hockey.

Situation report: The involvement of organised crime groups in sports corruption, by Europol

Technology and organized crime

Technology has become a significant enabler. The report highlights the “extensive use of newly developed applications for the purpose of online sport betting”, noting that the global annual proceeds of betting-related match-fixing are in the region of €120 million.

The involvement of OCGs in sports corruption report quote. Fighting organized crime in sports

Betting-related match-fixing is used to help OCGs facilitate money laundering.

OCGs do this by using online betting to exploit regulated betting operators, or to criminally control operators. Moreover, OCGs can manipulate identities to create betting accounts and e-wallets for betting on ‘fixed’ matches.

OCGs have also been quick to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has presented an array of new opportunities. The report concludes that “the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may be particularly significant in the area of organized crime, including money laundering and corruption”.

Financial implications aside, the well-documented social and humanitarian consequences of money laundering are widespread, and frequently devastating for victims.

Screening and due diligence

Organizations typically spend vast sums every year fighting corruption, including money laundering, but the scale of the challenge they face can be daunting.

Our 2020 Refinitiv-commissioned survey of global third-party relationship, risk management and compliance professionals in corporate organizations, revealed that third parties in particular introduce a host of potential risks and challenges to organizations’ supply chains.

43% of third parties do not receive due diligence checks. Fighting organized crime in sports

The average size of these networks was reported as 9,375 entities, and alarmingly, 43 percent of these third parties do not undergo due diligence checks. On top of this, 60 percent of respondents said they are not fully monitoring third parties for ongoing or emerging risk.

A significant 37 percent cited a lack of data as the biggest problem they face when trying to identify supply chain risk.

37% of respondents believe that a lack of data is a problem they face in identifying risk within their own supply chain. Fighting organized crime in sports

These statistics are cause for concern, and highlight the need for reliable, holistic data to drive a best- practice approach to fighting back.

Screening and enhanced due diligence remain two of the most effective tools available when it comes to pinpointing and mitigating potential risk.

Refinitiv’s World-Check Risk Intelligence database can help to identify potential risks in business relationships and networks, and, where heightened risk is suspected, EDD reports provide detailed background information on any third-party, anywhere in the world.

The value of partnerships

While screening and EDD are essential on a micro level, we should never underestimate the macro-level importance of collaboration and partnerships in the fight against corruption.

The involvement of OCGs in sports corruption report quote

The Global Coalition to Fight Financial Crime was launched by Refinitiv, the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Europol in 2018. It aims to mitigate global financial crime by identifying key weaknesses, advocating reforms, and promoting greater public private collaboration.

Watch: Refinitiv’s Financial Crime Interview Ft. Simon Riondet from Europol

We are also working to raise awareness and promote collaboration in the sustainable finance arena. Refinitiv was instrumental in the formation of the multi-member Future of Sustainable Data Alliance (FoSDA), launched in January 2020 with the World Economic Forum. The alliance promotes the use of data to drive sustainable decision-making.

Watch: In Conversation with Sherry Madera, Chief of Industry and Government Affairs — #WEF20 Davos

Trusted environmental, social and governance (ESG) data can offer immediate help to organizations as they strive to monitor the environmental performance of their third-party networks. Refinitiv’s ESG data covers nearly 70 percent of global market cap and delivers over 400 metrics.

As criminals become more sophisticated every year, organizations in every sector need to be aware of potential exposure to corruption.

Developing a holistic, data-driven approach to the identification and mitigation of risk is crucial to avoiding the financial and reputational fallout associated with inadvertently aiding illicit activities with far-reaching societal and humanitarian consequences.

Situation report: The involvement of organised crime groups in sports corruption, by Europol


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