Beyond the risk factors of sports-related match-fixing: Testing the applicability of situational action theory

Published date01 May 2024
AuthorLucie Vanwersch,Annick Willem,Bram Constandt,Wim Hardyns
Date01 May 2024
Subject MatterArticles
Beyond the risk factors of
sports-related match-f‌ixing:
Testing the applicability of
situational action theory
Lucie Vanwersch
Ghent University, Belgium
Annick Willem
Ghent University, Belgium
Bram Constandt
Ghent University, Belgium
Wim Hardyns
Ghent University, Belgium
Despite the increasing academic interest in match-f‌ixing, little is known about the behavioral
determinants of this phenomenon. This study applies key theoretical concepts of situational action
theory (SAT) to sportspersonsdecision-making process when confronted with sports-related
match-f‌ixing (SRMF) propositions. Using a factorial survey, amateur football players (n=661),
and tennis players (n=609) in Flanders (Belgium) were asked to evaluate hypothetical realistic
situations containing match-f‌ixing propositions. Our results show that sportspersonscrime pro-
pensity, mostly determined by their moral judgment of SRMF and self-control, and their levels of
temptation, together with a number of SAT interactions, were the best predictors of SRMF as a
form of sports-related rule breaking. We conclude that SAT provides a valuable theoretical frame-
work to study fraud in sports phenomena such as SRMF, and that factorial surveys have great
potential to allow researchers to reach beyond the risk factor stage of research, to eff‌iciently
inform prevention initiatives.
Corresponding author:
Lucie Vanwersch, Institute for International Research on Criminal Policy, Faculty of Law and Criminology,
Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
European Journal of Criminology
2024, Vol. 21(3) 467488
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/14773708231214037
Football, fraud in sports, match-f‌ixing, sports integrity, tennis
There are currently at least two roaming debates in the scientif‌icf‌ield of research sur-
rounding the integrity of sports and its breaches. The f‌irst debate concerns the def‌inition
of the central concept of integrity, whose pervasive use in the current literature has led to
confusion about its actual meaning and conceptualization (Gardiner et al., 2017). Several
descriptions of what integrity in sports entails have been formulated in recent years. One
of them, coming from the Australian Sports Commission, states that a sport displays
integrity when it is true to its values, principles, and rules(Ordway and Opie, 2016).
Additionally, recent research has pointed to the socially constructed nature of integrity
in sports, and to the importance of the institutional context in which it takes place
(Loyens et al., 2022). Integrity has also been described as the antithesis of corruption
(Gardiner et al., 2017), and this dichotomy brings us to the second debate. It concerns
the conceptualization and def‌inition of the activities that harm the integrity of sports.
The academic literature does not agree about the overarching term to be used, and opi-
nions oscillate between using fraud or corruption in sports (Brooks et al., 2013).
In this study, we focus on one particular breach of the integrity of sports, namely a
specif‌ic type of match-f‌ixing called sports-related match-f‌ixing (SRMF). Hence, we
decided to view SRMF as a type of fraud in sports for the following two reasons.
Firstly, corruption is frequently linked to acts of bribery when it is criminalized
(Gardiner, 2018), but SRMF does not always involve acts of bribery. Additionally,
research has shown a substantive disagreement within def‌initions of corruption as to
which activities should be included in its scope or not (Rose, 2018). Moreover, the
concept of fraud benef‌its from a more solid theoretical basis (Brooks et al., 2013), and
has been described by Transparency International as the offence of intentionally deceiv-
ing someone in order to gain an unfair or illegal advantage (f‌inancial, political or other-
wise)(Transparency International, 2022). In fact, match-f‌ixing involves the intentional
use of deception, certainly when it comes to the public who expects a competition to be
played in an honest manner (Masters, 2015). In the next section of this introduction, we
provide a more detailed explanation of what match-f‌ixing entails and we describe the
scope and aim of this study.
Literature review
Match-f‌ixing and its different types. Match-f‌ixing is gaining international attention as an
important threat to the integrity of sports competitions due to the increasing amount of
cases that are being detected and investigated world-wide. In the European Union, a typ-
ology was developed as well as a broad def‌inition provided by the Macolin Convention
(2014) of what is called the manipulation of sports competitions, which is:
An intentional arrangement, act, or omission aimed at an improper alteration of the result or the
course of a sports competition in order to remove all or part of the unpredictable nature of the
468 European Journal of Criminology 21(3)

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