The ICSS/Sorbonne Report: Is it any good? Not really.

The Qatari anti-corruption group (oxymoron alert) the International Centre for Sports Security sponsored the Sorbonne University to come up with an academic report on match-fixing in world sport.

Tomorrow, in Paris they will release the report.  It is entitled “Protecting the Integrity of Sports Competitions:  the Last Bet for Modern Sport”.  The great and good of the anti-match-fixing industry will gather for its release.   They will, presumably, make stern-sounding but congratulatory speeches about the ICSS and Sorbonne University work and remind each other how important they are.

Is the report any good?

Not really.

I managed to get hold of an early copy and it is a wet handkerchief of a report.   If one of your first-year undergraduate students handed it in, you would give them a C- for effort, along with a note telling them to do better next time.

Strengths:

Many of the people compiling the report are decent and honourable.  They would never fix a game in their life.

Some parts are very good.  Figure 5, ‘A Map of Models of Regulations of Online Sports’ – is excellent work. It contrasts various countries responses to ‘illegal betting’ and ‘sports integrity’ and essentially ranks them on their pro-active response.   This is measurable and good.  There are a few other places and chapters that match this standard.

Weaknesses:

There is a – surprisingly – shoddy methodology in much of the report:

To start with basic – but important issues – at least in the version that I read there was little academic rigour: no index, no authors were given to the various chapters and, incredibly, there were no sources for the various figures and tables.

This is pretty common stuff among academics.    Not listing where you got your data for tables and figures so readers can judge for themselves their validity, is an unforgivable mistake in any student above senior high-school.  I cannot understand how any of the authors could have put their names to a report that fails to do this kind of basic sourcing.

There is also some shoddy fact-checking.  There are numerous examples, but one will do:  Ben Johnson was not an American sprinter as claimed on page 59.  (He was Canadian as a quick visit to Google should have confirmed.)

Above and beyond these simple but important academic issues, the report is also plagued with a lack of clear, precise thinking.   For example, the authors repeatedly confuse ‘illegal betting’ with ‘match-fixing’.

These are two utterly separate concepts.  ‘Illegal betting’ is doing in countries like China and the US what is perfectly legal in the UK: have a bet on a local sporting event.   Match-fixing is corrupting sport.   Yes, the fixers use the illegal betting markets to profit-maximize but the problem is fixing not illegal betting.   These are separate intellectual ideas and for academics at a major institution to be confusing them is troubling.

There are many more examples of woolly, imprecise thinking.   For example, Figure 1 is a map purportedly showing which countries suffer from higher rates of corruption and match-fixing.  It implies that relatively honest countries like Norway, Sweden and Finland have higher match-fixing rates per capita than China or Singapore.

Come on, lads.

This is basic criminology stuff.  You are confusing reported rates of corruption with actual.   The Scandinavian countries have more publicly reported incidents of match-fixing than China and Singapore because no one is trying to hush them up.

Finally, there is one saint in the compilation of this report who should be mentioned:  Pierre El Hayek is listed as the translator of this academic door-stopper.  I hope the poor fellow is okay.  I have images of him, like Inspector Clouseau’s boss, going slowly mad in an attic somewhere.   I would have gone berserk if I had to spend months translating hundreds of pages of paragraphs like this one (selected by random):

“The reality is that the principle of autonomy is only recognized by states as a principle of the nationalisation of the respective intervention of public authorities and sporting authorities: and cannot be opposed to a state as a principle that legally and definitely affects its own powers, nor as a total independence of the sporting movement from public authority.”

My desire is that M. El Hayek is lying on a beach somewhere sipping a well-earned beverage of his choice.  Certainly, he deserves every Euro they paid him for having to translate this academic dirge.

I could go on, but you get the picture: bad writing indicates bad thinking, bad thinking comes from indifferent data collection and lack of rigour in the initial planning of this report.

The ICSS/Sorbonne report seems to be have been hastily cobbled together, badly thought out and released without editorial rigour.  Both institutions should do better.

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