Towards a global coalition for good governance in sport
Ministers, parlamentarians, ladies and gentlemen:
“We are facing challenges of a terrifying magnitude.”
This statement was made recently by a man who has no apparent reason to be terrified. As a fencer, he has conquered opponents of any kind, and as a lawyer he has sided with the most powerful people sports business can boast.
His career as a sports leader has so far led him to the Vice-Presidency of the International Olympic Committee, and this spring he was elected President of the new merger in German sport, the German Olympic Sports Confederation [Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund] with 27 million members.
It was when taking up this last position that Dr. Thomas Bach declared:
„Wir stehen vor Herausforderungen erschreckender Größenordnung.“
We have every reason to listen carefully when one of the most powerful men in world sport name two issues that terrify him, namely: Doping and corruption.
As for doping, we know that coordinated international action has been taken and significant progress made. We have also realised that the task is much more complex than stopping a handful of individual cheaters in top sport. We are fighting against an illegal multinational industry that produces, markets and sells its products in the local gym, the bar next corner or maybe at our local school – in most parts of the world. This is terrifying, but as least we can say we started taking action with regard to doping.
Whereas for corruption…
An immature approach to sports corruption
As for sports corruption, we still seem to be taken by surprise whenever a new sports scandal appears in front of our eyes. We look at sports corruption the way we looked at doping in the 1980’s as something highly uncommon that only a few morally weak individuals resorted to.
Today, when a president of one of the biggest international sports federations gets away with enriching himself with millions and millions of dollars by introducing absolute monarchy and falsifying the accounts, we tend to shrug our shoulders and wait for someone else to take action.
Or when we hear the latest example of match fixing in football we tend to regard it as something particularly Italian or particularly Greek or particularly Turkish or particularly Brazilian or particularly Vietnamese or particularly Finnish or particularly Belgian or particularly German…
Yet, the original meaning of corruption is “breakdown”. This points to the fact that there is a system underneath, an order of things that can be broken.
Every day it becomes increasingly clear that corruption in sport is not only a matter of individual greed, but closely related to the way the entire sports system function.
By and large, the big international federations draw upon the same public image, claim to represent the same mission, build on the same political structure and enjoy the same political and legal privileges as does the small local sports club.
But over the last generation the international organisations have become key players in a global entertainment industry, their leaders are received worldwide as were they heads of state, and they count their revenues by the billions.
In other spheres of society, strict measures would have been introduced to handle and control such speedily growing fortunes, but neither the sports organisations themselves nor the surrounding society has realised that the voluntary leader of yesterday has become the power broker and business mogul of today.
If you add to this lack of internal and external control the fact that sports organisations offer a growing range of fertile business opportunities, you get an impression of why sport has made itself vulnerable to those who seek an easy way to profit and power.
A Global Coalition for Good Governance in Sport
Time does not permit an in-depth analysis, so I will restrict myself to noting that today’s’ meeting could represent a turning point in the quest for good governance in sport.
The Independent European Sport Review has paved the way in an excellent manner by listing a number of problems affecting football: Illegal gambling, trafficking of young sporting talent, murky club takeovers, shady agent enterprises and other threats.
UEFA, too, should have full credit for admitting that these problems cannot be overcome by sport alone, and it is encouraging to see how UEFA welcomes dialogue and cooperation with the outside world.
But there are plenty of further steps to be taken. Governance problems are not restricted to the EU, nor to Europe as a whole, and not to football alone. The challenges are global, and they regard every sport that ever touches money.
When we regard the number of corruption or mismanagement cases that we know of, we must bear in mind that experts generally considers the dark number in corruption – the cases that has not surfaced – to be 95 percent.
If this is also true for sport, we are indeed facing challenges of a terrifying magnitude. It is high time to act – but how?
Why not let us inspire by the World Anti Doping Agency which has proved that a legally binding cooperation between governments, supranational institutions and sport can create considerable progress?
It is time to create a new alliance and found a new world institution – we could call it the “Global Coalition for Good Governance in Sport”.
This new anti-corruption institution should be run jointly by the International Olympic Committee and the international sport federations, by the United Nations, by governmental organisations like the EU and the European Council, and – as a supplement to the structure we know from WADA – should also invite representatives of the media, the fan trusts and the sports business side on the board.
Since a urine test cannot reveal if a sports official has taken bribes and since no laboratory can break the secrecy of bank transfers in Switzerland, the new unit must operate on other terms and with other tools than WADA.
The tasks of the new coalition
The “Global Coalition for Good Governance in Sport” should:
- define minimum standards for transparency, accountability and democratic procedures, standards which are to be followed by all national and international sports federations, governments, sponsors
- have administrative capacity to monitor that the minimum standards are respected
- actively welcome sports leaders and administrators, media professionals, sports researchers and other stakeholders to report irregularities
- have a legal mandate and professional expertise to investigate cases of mismanagement and corruption, including the right to search sports offices, archives etc. without prior notice
- be equipped with right to issue bans against individuals or groups who violate the global standards and suspend those who are under investigation
- be provided with a legal status that enables it to report supposed violations to national or international legal authorities for further trial
- regularly communicate its findings to the public through annual reports, conferences etc.
Today could be an excellent starting point. If the organisers of this meeting agree to form a preliminary working group that will invite the stakeholders and prepare a foundation board, another important step will be taken.
On behalf of Play the Game I am happy to offer our international communication tools, our networking access to leading journalists, sports researchers and sports leaders, and abundant space in our next world conference programme to support the debates concerning the creation of the Global Coalition for Good Governance in Sport.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we do not act on sports corruption, sports leaders may soon say with nostalgia to each other: "Do you remember the time when it was doping that undermined our values… yes, those were happy days."
Corruption affects the values of sport deeper and broader than doping.
For society as a whole, it is unacceptable that a powerful economic, political and cultural sector like sport grows to become a sanctuary for all kinds of manipulation, at a safe distance from the rule of law.
Let us join forces, get to work and offer corruption in sport whole-hearted resistance. The alternative: To let it be, is much more terrifying than any challenge we may face.