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New FBI Unit Emerges Targeting Sports Corruption Including Esports

John Holden, LegalSportsReport

The feds appear to be getting more involved in the type of activity surrounding an interesting esports situation.

As part of a still-developing story of match-fixing within esports, details of a new Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) unit came out. The exact scope of the new unit is not yet known.

However, according to a Washington Post story, the Unit was formed in the lead up to the passage of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act and will have a focus on sports corruption-related crimes.

What is the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act?

The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act was the United States’ response to allegations that the Russian government had engaged in state-sponsored doping. The law sets out criminal penalties for certain individuals who commit “international doping fraud conspiracies.”

The argument in favor of this legislation is that doping conspiracies harm the integrity of sport, and these effects extend beyond the competition and “clean” athletes but also harm the commercial relationships that have created a $500 billion industry centering on sports.

Controversial criminalization of sports rules?

There have been some critiques of efforts to criminalize sports rules, in particular rules relating to doping in sport. However, as the legislation notes in its findings, the whistleblowers who came forward with evidence of state-sponsored doping by Russia lacked many protections, which would now be available to future whistleblowers.

The law effectively enables the federal government to protect whistleblowers under “existing witness and informant protection laws.”

The Rodchenkov Act is named for the whistleblower, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov. The law is narrow in its scope to apply to doping; however, it does not appear that the FBI’s unit is quite so narrowly focused.

The new unit

The new FBI Unit is headed by Joseph Gillespie, according to the Post, and he will be part of the newly launched bureau Sport and Gaming Initiative.

While the broad scope of the new unit’s authority appears focused on transnational sports competition, this law indeed provides a national law enforcement agency great authority both domestically and abroad.

Not just doping

The focus of the Unit will extend beyond doping conspiracies and include “an interest in potential match-fixing and gambling-related crimes.”

Part of the impetus for the Unit appears to be visible in order to have a deterrent effect on international crime syndicates that may target American events.

In fact, it appears that the Unit was involved in the infamous Parlay Patz investigation.

New, but not new

The FBI’s new Unit is of course not its first foray into sports corruption, as the Bureau has previously (and may still) operate a sports bribery unit that would investigate instances of sports bribery-related match-fixing.

The FBI has long investigated sports corruption, but this new unit appears more focused in scope.

Concerns with organized crime

The connection between sports corruption (usually match-fixing) and organized crime has long been cited as the reason for law enforcement’s interest in sports-related crimes. Indeed, illegal bookmaking for sports betting was the impetus for the Wire Act.

Likewise, the Sports Bribery Act was passed in response to organized criminal efforts to target athletes to throw sporting events for the benefit of the fixers.

While organized criminal operations remain a concern, the new Bureau initiative appears to be putting a direct focus on sports, as opposed to concerning itself first with other organized criminal enterprises that lend to sports corruption.

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