Sports integrity issues not rising as sports gambling increases

Coins and tennis ball over a laptop keyboard
Coins and tennis ball over a laptop keyboard

Despite a massive increase in sports gambling activity, fueled primarily by the addition of legal states in the U.S., there hasn’t been an increase in sports integrity issues. This is the succinct takeaway from a recent report by the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA), which indicates the figures have remained relatively unchanged over the past several years. Last year saw a bump in the number of complaints, but nothing that would indicate match-fixing in sports is running rampant.

The IBIA indicates that there were 270 suspicious gambling reports lodged last year. They came from 43 countries and 15 sports, with 68 of the complaints found in the first quarter. This is a significant jump -48% – from the 183 that were reported a year earlier; however, taking into account the total number of sports contests that were played around the world, the figure is still extremely low. 

Soccer activity saw the biggest increase in complaints last year, increasing by 25% to 61. Tennis, which has a history of match-fixing, saw even more, with 98. Of those related to tennis, 39 were addressed by the International Tennis Integrity Agency since they didn’t involve any major competitions. Of all of the investigations launched by the IBIA, only 12 players or teams received criminal or sports sanctions due to suspicious gambling activity. 

The CEO of the IBIA, Khalid Ali, explains that COVID-19 may have played a role in the uptick, asserting, “2020 was a turbulent year for many sectors including the betting industry, which had to adjust its market offering due to the global sports lockdown. As a result, IBIA focused its integrity monitoring activity to take account of new sports tournaments and competitions that emerged.”

However, what’s more notable is the fact that the increase in numbers from last year were on par with what had been seen in 2017 and 2018, according to Ali. That was before the U.S. began to dive into sports gambling in any sizable measure, with the U.S. Supreme Court having just overturned PASPA in May of 2018. The fact that sports integrity issues didn’t spiral out of control last year, with 20 states having launched legal sports gambling and expansion being found elsewhere in the world, would seem to indicate that the worn-out rhetoric that the legalization of sports gambling only leads to greater corruption is a myth completely busted. 

When taking into account all of the sports that are available, over 8,000 and counting, and the number of matches of each sport, 270 cases total isn’t even enough to indicate that there might be an issue. However, in the spirit of sports fairness, eliminating any questionable activity that could skew the outcome of games is always going to be an important task.