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Virtual Sports Fraud

Fraud, or more commonly referred to as “cheating”, in sport is nothing new. It is an age-old problem that has never been, and likely never will, be eradicated. It spans all platforms of sport; it doesn’t discriminate. Whether it is cycling (Lance Armstrong), the Olympics (Russia’s systematic doping), Cricket (the Australian “sandpaper-gate”), Rugby Union (“bloodgate”) or football (insider betting), all have fallen victim at one point or another. This time it is motorsport and the ABB FIA Formula E (“Formula E”) Audi racing driver Daniel Abt that steals the headlines.

As part of Formula E’s fundraising partnership with UNICEF, the electric street race entered the virtual world for a nine-week Formula E Race at Home Challenge – a nine week esports competition featuring sponsors, all the professional teams and drivers, along with some top gamers. Whilst the event should have been making the news headlines for all of the right reasons, instead it did so for bringing another sporting scandal to the fore. Late last month, the news broke that Audi had sacked its racing driver, Daniel Abt, after he arranged for a professional esports gamer to be a “ringer” for him at the Berlin-Tempelhof event.

As Abt was second bottom of the virtual series, suspicions were raised when at one point he led by a significant margin and ultimately finished third. What also raised questions, was that whilst a video feed of all of the drivers is available through the race, Abt’s face was obscured. It was later revealed Abt had cheated and passed his controls to a professional gamer who completed the race for him. Initially, Abt was disqualified and ordered to make a compulsory donation of 10,000 euros to charity. Despite Abt promptly apologising, he was later suspended and subsequently sacked by Audi. The ironic thing is that Abt actually won the same race in real life in 2018. Whilst the virtual series may seem like an innocent “bit of fun”, due to the money involved for charities and significant sponsors investing in the event, it certainly is not.

A common theme running through all fraud related to sport is that sporting individuals, by their very nature, are competitive and are “in it to win”. Any mistake or incorrect “judgment call” is enhanced and exposed due to the media scrutiny and global platform of elite sport. Culture, leadership and the correct “moral compass” is key in the sporting sector to try and eradicate fraud. If all elements of the sports team are not aligned, it can encourage and allow morally incorrect decisions to flourish. Undoubtedly, the pressures on athletes are immense. Many feel they have to justify, or seek an increase, to their wage or “chase” that elusive top sponsor. Mix this in with the fact that all elite competitors want to be classed as the “best” and you can start to see how problems may arise. The big question remains, with these significant pressures only ever increasing…how is cheating in sport going to be eradicated.

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Published on June 12, 2020

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