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Corruption in International Sports

The Maryland Journal of International Law (MJIL) hosted international law and anti-corruption experts for a discussion of corruption issues within FIFA, the Olympics, and beyond on October 21, 2016.

During the full day symposium, international law and anti-corruption experts discussed the issues arising out of and solutions to corruption concerns in international sports. The symposium also touched upon other significant sports issues such as doping, gambling, match-fixing, athlete discipline, eSports, and more.

Alexandra Wrage of TRACE International, Inc., the morning keynote speaker, opened by sharing her experiences with FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee (IGC) from 2011 to 2013. The IGC was tasked with tackling the corruption in soccer’s international governing body.  She resigned when it became clear that the process was about the appearance of reform, not actual reform. The IGC was eventually disbanded.

For the first panel, FIFA’s Fraud: Exploiting the World’s Sport, Professor Bruce W. Bean of Michigan State University College of Law spoke about the global corruption landscape and how corruption in the business community has led to a relative lack of success in reforming FIFA. David W. Larkin, a sports attorney, anti-corruption expert, and co-founder of ChangeFIFA, discussed international sport administration, the FIFA corruption scandal, and why international sports is not getting any cleaner. Professor J. Gordon Hylton of the University of Virginia School of Law detailed how FIFA threatens banishment from international competition to keep national authorities from intervening in the internal football affairs.

During the second panel, The Olympic Toll: The Costs of Hosting the World, Brigida Benitez of Steptoe & Johnson, LLC, examined the adequacy of the International Olympic Committee’s rules and procedures dealing with corruption, and Professor Andrew B. Spalding of the University of Richmond School of Law sparked a passionate discussion after arguing that the Rio 2016 Games facilitated corruption reform in Brazil.   

Dr. Declan Hill, an independent journalist and senior research fellow at the University of Wuerzburg, presented his talk, “The Revolution,” as the afternoon keynote speaker. Dr. Hill detailed his investigation of match-fixing organizations and gangs, how a seismic shift has occurred in the world of sports gambling, and what can be done to protect vulnerable American sports.

The third panel, Combating Corruption Beyond the Pitch, expanded the discussion beyond sporting mega-events. Professor Pammela S. Quinn of Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law explored how multinational corporate enterprises wield regulatory authority over multinational corporate enterprises in the international sports arena, while Dr. John T. Holden, visiting scholar at Florida State University College of Education, examined the fast-growing world of eSports, or competitive video gaming, as problems with doping, gambling-related match-fixing, and non-gambling related corruption impact the industry. Additionally, Aaron Zelinsky, assistant U.S. Attorney and adjunct professor at Maryland Carey Law, spoke about the boom in fantasy and online sports gambling in the U.S. and its expansion to other countries.




Punishing & Protecting International Athletes, the concluding panel, focused on doping among athletes, how they are sanctioned, and how they can fight back. Professor Daniel José Gandert of Northwestern University School of Law explained how the World Anti-Doping Code is enforced, how doping threatens the integrity of sports, and how doping represents corruption on an individual and state-sponsored level. Paul J. Greene, founding partner at Global Sports Advocates, LLC, shared two case studies of athletes who were wrongly sanctioned under the World Anti-Doping Code and the impact the wrongly imposed sanctions had on the athletes’ careers and lives.

Segueing from this topic and ending the symposium, Brendan Schwab, head of UNI World Athletes at UNI Global Union, provided the closing address. Schwab argued that the “global monolithic” nature of sports requires unionization to ensure that athletes’ rights are protected.

Financial support for the symposium was generously provided by The Gerber Fund. Also, special thanks go to the International & Comparative Law Program, the International Law Society, Professor Peter Danchin, Professor Maxwell Chibundu, Professor Michael Van Alstine, Professor Virginia Rowthorn, and Ms. Shyala Rumsey, who all contributed to the success of the symposium.

For more information on MJIL, this symposium, and Vol. 32 (2016-2017) symposium articles to be published in Spring 2017, please visit MJIL’s website

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500 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-1786 PHONE: (410) 706-7214 FAX: (410) 706-4045 / TDD: (410) 706-7714

Admissions: PHONE: (410) 706-3492 FAX: (410) 706-1793

Copyright © 2018, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. All Rights Reserved