New FBI Unit Emerges Targeting Sports Corruption Including Esports

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The feds appear to be getting more involved in the type of activity surrounding an interesting esports situation.

As part of a still-developing story of match-fixing within esports, details of a new Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) unit came out. The exact scope of the new unit is not yet known.

However, according to a Washington Post story, the Unit was formed in the lead up to the passage of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act and will have a focus on sports corruption-related crimes.

What is the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act?

The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act was the United States’ response to allegations that the Russian government had engaged in state-sponsored doping. The law sets out criminal penalties for certain individuals who commit “international doping fraud conspiracies.”

The argument in favor of this legislation is that doping conspiracies harm the integrity of sport, and these effects extend beyond the competition and “clean” athletes but also harm the commercial relationships that have created a $500 billion industry centering on sports.

Controversial criminalization of sports rules?

There have been some critiques of efforts to criminalize sports rules, in particular rules relating to doping in sport. However, as the legislation notes in its findings, the whistleblowers who came forward with evidence of state-sponsored doping by Russia lacked many protections, which would now be available to future whistleblowers.

The law effectively enables the federal government to protect whistleblowers under “existing witness and informant protection laws.”

The Rodchenkov Act is named for the whistleblower, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov. The law is narrow in its scope to apply to doping; however, it does not appear that the FBI’s unit is quite so narrowly focused.

The new unit

The new FBI Unit is headed by Joseph Gillespie, according to the Post, and he will be part of the newly launched bureau Sport and Gaming Initiative.

While the broad scope of the new unit’s authority appears focused on transnational sports competition, this law indeed provides a national law enforcement agency great authority both domestically and abroad.

Not just doping

The focus of the Unit will extend beyond doping conspiracies and include “an interest in potential match-fixing and gambling-related crimes.”

Part of the impetus for the Unit appears to be visible in order to have a deterrent effect on international crime syndicates that may target American events.

In fact, it appears that the Unit was involved in the infamous Parlay Patz investigation.

New, but not new

The FBI’s new Unit is of course not its first foray into sports corruption, as the Bureau has previously (and may still) operate a sports bribery unit that would investigate instances of sports bribery-related match-fixing.

The FBI has long investigated sports corruption, but this new unit appears more focused in scope.

Concerns with organized crime

The connection between sports corruption (usually match-fixing) and organized crime has long been cited as the reason for law enforcement’s interest in sports-related crimes. Indeed, illegal bookmaking for sports betting was the impetus for the Wire Act.

Likewise, the Sports Bribery Act was passed in response to organized criminal efforts to target athletes to throw sporting events for the benefit of the fixers.

While organized criminal operations remain a concern, the new Bureau initiative appears to be putting a direct focus on sports, as opposed to concerning itself first with other organized criminal enterprises that lend to sports corruption.

Changing tides

The recognition of sports as a $500 billion industry is significant. Following the high-profile arrests surrounding scandals involving international sports organizations, most prominently FIFA, it was clear that the federal government was taking an interest in sports corruption from an angle that differed from the past.

The Rodchenkov Act is a major step towards creating greater government oversight over the sports industry.

More legislation coming?

One of the questions that arises out of the new unit is whether Congress will seek to expand the group’s purview by trying to pass new legislation in the realm of sports wagering.

We saw an effort to modernize the Sports Bribery Act associated with the failed Sen. Orrin Hatch bill that went out as fast as it came in, in late 2019, but it has been relatively quiet since.

Modernizing the Sports Bribery Act?

The ill-fated Hatch-Schumer bill would have added extortion and blackmail to the activities that are covered under the 1964 Sports Bribery Act.

The proposed changes would have also prohibited wagering based on protected non-public information, as well as creating whistleblower protection that would have brought the statute more in line with modern trends across a wide area of industries of protecting those who come forward with information about wrongdoing.

More enforcement

The new FBI Unit with a focus on sports is an important addition to law enforcement’s arsenal in fighting sports corruption. The rise of legal betting has only increased the value of the industry, so, therefore, makes sense that increased resources are spent protecting the industry from those who could cause reputational harm.

The regulated sports wagering market provides great advantages over the unregulated market in regards to routing out corrupt activity. However, the rise of a legal market does not mean that corrupt activity automatically disappears.

As we are now seeing in the world of esports, vigilance and enforcement remain important attributes for stopping corruption.