Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

A Critical Mass of Corruption: Why Some Football Leagues Have More Match-Fixing Than Others

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

A Critical Mass of Corruption: Why Some Football Leagues Have More Match-Fixing Than Others

Article excerpt

Executive summary

This paper is about match-fixing in football. It examines two questions: Why do some leagues have more match-fixing than other leagues? and Why do some leagues collapse because of high levels of match-fixing but other leagues that are equally corrupt manage to continue without loss of either sponsorship or public support?

The subject of corruption in sport and its link to sponsorship has long been ignored. It should not be. Some of the football leagues that I examine in this paper have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in sponsorship money because of corruption.

The data for this paper were gathered in two ways: qualitative, in interviews with more than 220 individuals; and quantitative, through construction of a series of databases of fixed and non-fixed matches, corrupt and non-corrupt players, in order to determine general trends.

Three factors are involved in widespread corruption: the players are paid badly, they perceive that their bosses--the league or team officials--are corrupt, and there are large networks of illegal gambling. In effect, players are paid badly to do their jobs well, but there is an alternative market that is willing to pay them very well, to do their jobs badly.

The concept of an alternative market is important in the question of why some leagues collapse. It is not that they are highly corrupt: it is that the public knows the league is highly corrupt and there is an alternative, non-corrupt sports league that can draw fans and sponsors away from the highly corrupt league.


On 2 October 2004, Yang Zuwu, the manager of the Chinese team Beijing Hyundai, did something odd. In the 85th minute of the game against the provincial team Shenyang Jinde, he ordered his team to walk off the pitch. He then stood outside the dressing room door and announced that his team was not only refusing to take part in the rest of the match, but also refusing to take part in any more matches in the Chinese Super League (CSL). Beijing Hyundai, sponsored by the Korean car company, was one of the richest teams in the league, and several other teams followed its lead, pulling out of the league and causing the CSL to effectively collapse (Blatter, 2008; by Shao Da, 31 October 2004; SO10). Yang Zuwu and the other protesters were infuriated because in less than five months the league had proven to be rife with corruption and match-fixing (SO10; Watts, 2004; Gidney, 2007). The bribing of referees, players and teams had, they claimed, become so widespread and so blatant, that it was impossible to play honestly in the league.

The collapse of the CSL follows a trend across south-east Asia. In the past 15 years the football leagues of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have all effectively collapsed due to match-fixing (SO10; Blatter, 2008; Jakarta Post, 1998; Agence France Presse, 2004).

The effect of corruption on sponsorship has been ignored in sport. It should not be. In the words of one tennis executive, match-fixing "is the ultimate threat to the credibility of the sport" (SO 8). Once credibility is gone, the sponsors pull out. The collapse of the CSL and other Asian football leagues because of corruption among the players and referees was accompanied by a loss in corporate sponsorship of hundreds of millions of dollars (SO 1-4, 9, 10). It has taken Chinese football years to recover, and many of the corrupted leagues have never been able to regain either the fan support or sufficient sponsorship money.

This paper analyses two questions: what are the social mechanisms that lead to high corruption inside some leagues but not in others, and what does 'collapse' mean and what factors lead to a sports league losing its credibility and sponsorship money?

I argue throughout the paper that widespread match corruption is not a cultural phenomenon: Chinese, Singaporeans and Asians in general are no more willing to take bribes for ethnic or cultural reasons than any other group. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.