Transfer of Athletes, Betting Adds to Sports Crime

Transfer of Athletes, Betting Adds to Sports Crime

A huge influx of money at the top level of professional sport, rapid growth of legal and illegal sports betting and marked technological advances have transformed the way sport is performed and consumed, which all needs to be addressed at the earliest, according to a new advocacy paper by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime(UNODC).

“Child labour, trafficking in persons and forced labour remain a serious concern in sport. In addition, attention is being focused on preventing the use of sports for money-laundering purposes,” the advocacy paper said.

It also sheds light on crime and corruption issues in the transfer of athletes. These issues include associated illicit financial flows and money laundering, the hiding and disguising of beneficial ownership through transfer transactions of athletes, trafficking in persons, migration and labour-related issues, among others.


The UNODC said that the systems regulating the transfer of athletes may not comply with and even contradict:

» Fundamental human and labour rights of athletes, especially those of children and vulnerable athletes

» Principles of solidarity and competitive balance

» Principles of contractual stability

» Free movement of athletes in professional sports

In addition, systems used for the transfer of athletes often help drive speculation on the value of athletes, contributing to greater contractual instability, which puts athletes in a vulnerable position. This is exacerbated by a lack of transparency in areas such as payments to intermediaries or athletes’ family members and access to transfer certifications in many sports, the UN Agency said.


The paper points out that transfer of athletes often involved a complex network of actors and stakeholders, including clubs, owners, players, agents, intermediaries, advisers and sponsors. This activity can encompass stakeholders from various levels. Noting that owners of clubs can range from supporters’ trusts to wealthy non-domiciled individuals and private equity funds, the UNODC said, “this complexity, when coupled with a lack of transparency, may leave athletes exposed to a range of crimes, which have been identified in multiple jurisdictions across the globe.”

The shortcomings in the systems of transfer of athletes make them particularly vulnerable to a wide range of criminal activities. Those systems are susceptible to criminal activities because they fall short of achieving their main objectives, such as:

» Protecting children and vulnerable adults

» Safeguarding contractual stability

» Encouraging training

» Ensuring solidarity between the elite and grass roots levels of sport

» Ensuring competitive balance

» Protecting the integrity of sports


The UNODC stresses for concerted and coordinated initiatives from governments and sports organizations at the local, national, regional and global levels to address those concerns. The initiatives should focus on:

» Addressing the infiltration of sport by organized criminal groups and the methods they employ to generate illicit gains, including activities linked to the transfer of athletes (although it is important to note that transfer-of-athlete transactions could be linked to a wider range of crimes)

» Protecting athletes by emphasizing the importance of a victim- or athlete-centred approach that

incorporates human rights and gender considerations

» Promoting partnerships and cooperation at all levels, in particular given the transnational nature of organized criminal groups and their economic crime– neither criminal justice authorities nor sports organizations can address those crimes alone

The UN Agency stresses the need need to raise awareness and increase understanding of such crimes among governments, sports organizations and other relevant stakeholders to prevent, detect, investigate and adjudicate crimes linked to the transfer of athletes.

It also said called for licensing system for agents and the introduction of a cap on agent remuneration, could help ensure greater transparency and accountability in the transfer market. Given the unique challenges presented by the complexity of the sports sector and the cross-border nature of the risks that this sector must manage, governments should seek to introduce specific legislation that allows for more effective prevention, deterrence and disruption of criminal conduct in sport and for more robust enforcement of regulations.


» Adhere to, for those that have not yet done so, and effectively implement the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Trafficking and Smuggling Protocols and the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

» Adopt clear and comprehensive legislation that prohibits all forms of exploitation of and violence against children and adults in all contexts including sport.

» Support more effective implementation of existing legislation relating to crimes linked to the transfer of athletes or, where appropriate, support the development of specific legislation to criminalize wrongdoing linked to the transfer of athletes.

» Conduct or support empirical studies to enhance understanding of the risks of corruption and crimes linked to the transfer of athletes, whether in specific sports or in sport in general.

» Develop initiatives that promote and enhance cooperation and the exchange of information and good practices, both at the national and the international levels, between and among law enforcement and judicial authorities, corruption prevention authorities, lawmakers and policy makers, international organizations, sports organizations, civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders linked to the transfer of athletes.

» Develop education and awareness-raising programmes that promote principles of integrity and create an atmosphere of intolerance towards corruption, particularly in junior and youth sport. These programmes should include age-sensitive material for children and young athletes and their parents to alert them to risks of crimes linked to the transfer of athletes.

» Establish or maintain mechanisms for reporting crime linked to the transfer of athletes and for effective protection of witnesses, experts, victims and reporting persons, including in sport, from retaliation and intimidation in line with articles 24 and 25 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and articles 32 and 33 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

» Support youth development and the protection of minors and vulnerable adults by harmonizing the

conditions of entry for young players from one country to another and by improving rules on minors and youth athletes.

» Establish or adapt existing mechanisms or platforms to support the investigation and prosecution of economic crime-related misconduct in athlete transfers.


» Enhance transparency and accountability in relation to the transfer of athletes, establish mechanisms to facilitate the mandatory reporting and referral to competent authorities of crimes linked to the transfer of athletes for intermediaries, agents, managers, employees and athletes, and assess regularly specific risks relating to infiltration by organized crime.

» Develop mechanisms for open, confidential and anonymous reporting of all crimes and wrongdoing in sport, including those linked to the transfer of athletes.

» Introduce preventive measures aimed at addressing risks of crimes linked to the transfer of athletes, including the promotion of education and awareness-raising campaigns for children and young adults.

» Support, promote and strengthen reporting, cooperation and the exchange of information and good practices with law enforcement, judicial authorities and corruption prevention entities to effectively prevent, detect and adjudicate crimes and wrongdoing linked to the transfer of athletes.

» Develop and adopt, where appropriate and in line with domestic laws, codes of conduct aimed at better regulating the transfer of athletes, while monitoring the effectiveness of transfer system reforms, based on appropriate qualitative and quantitative indicators and drawing on feedback from internal and external sources.

» Take measures to acknowledge and effectively implement sports organization accountability in the context of the transfer of athletes, including guaranteeing safe travel and safe return in the context of transfer of athletes and humane and safe working conditions free of violence, abuse and discrimination.

» Develop inclusive and accountable governance structures to ensure that interests of all affected stakeholders are represented in line with basic principles of democracy.


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