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Playing fair

Booting fraud from football

Football — the international sport, with strikers and goalkeepers — is beloved around the world, but in an intense game where professional teams compete for wins and financial survival, fraud is commonplace. Here’s a primer on the many schemes on and off the field and meaningful steps that football clubs and leagues could take to fight fraud in the sport.

During the 2021-2022 season, Manchester City Football Club (F.C.) had an audience of 786 million viewers and won its sixth title in England’s highest division, the Premier League. Since it came under new ownership in 2008, the club has won 17 trophies. But a dramatic announcement last year is now threatening the F.C.’s newfound success. In 2023, the Premier League charged Manchester City with 115 counts of breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules that require football clubs to provide accurate information about their financial positions. The reported violations, which allegedly occurred between 2009 and 2018, include failure to provide accurate reports on player and manager compensation. The case goes to trial this fall, and Manchester City is facing dire repercussions — the team could find itself relegated (demoted) to a low-level league. (See “Manchester City Annual Report 2022-23;” “Manchester City charged with breaking financial rules by Premier League,” by Katie Falkingham, BBC, Feb. 6, 2023; and “Full list of FFP charges against Manchester City,” by Graeme Bell, GIVEMESPORT, Jan. 16, 2024.)

Manchester City is only one of many football clubs around the world grappling with fraud. Numerous scandals throughout the years — including the international organization FIFA’s own history of scandal — continue to raise concerns about the integrity of the game. But there are measures that football organizations can take to address fraud in their teams and ensure a fair playing field for athletes and fans alike. (See “Fifa corruption crisis: Key questions answered,” BBC News, Dec. 21, 2015.) 

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