PtG Comment 16.02.2012

2012: A promising start for the villains of sport

Comment: FIFA and the IOC have recently wasted a couple of good opportunities to discourage minor and major crooks at the start of the Olympic year.

After a 2011 plagued by countless political and financial scandals centred on the world football federation FIFA, it would be wonderful to be able to report that an Olympic peace is set to permeate through to this year’s major sporting events in Poland, Ukraine and London.

But alas, 2012 has already offered good opportunities to contain minor and major crooks who use elite sport as an impetus for personal gain and/or misuse of power. And with a degree of predictability it is, to be honest, sad that these opportunities have been wasted.

For example, FIFA had an opportunity until the end of January to reveal which of the organisation’s top leaders who through the 1990s benefited from at least 140 million Swiss francs paid as bribes by the then giant in sports marketing, ISL, in return for getting the rights to the sport’s TV broadcasts and marketing.

In November FIFA President Sepp Blatter promised to make all of the documents in the ISL case public, and with that pull the rug out from under a number of his closest colleagues in FIFA’s Executive Committee. That is, rather, that he did not actually promise it, but his statements were interpreted far and wide in that way without Blatter feeling compelled to contradict it. 

In fact, Sepp Blatter only promised to present the whole case to FIFA’s next Executive Committee meeting, after which it would be decided what further action would be taken. But even this promise was more than Blatter could, or wanted to, keep. 

The case in question was closed in 2010 after a settlement with the Swiss prosecutors, and Blatter therefore soon decided to send out a press release saying that he would continue to keep his promise, but referred in vague terms to objections from an unnamed third party.

Applause for corruption

Whether this explanation was true or a convenient quick-fix for the occasion, Blatter came under renewed pressure from another court ruling on the very last working day of 2011. On this occasion the Supreme Court in the Canton of Zug, where FIFA calls home, ruled that FIFA should disclose the names of the people who were included in the settlement in 2010.

This was a blow to Blatter who had fought to avoid this court order in spite of his public promises. Behind the legal action stand a number of media outlets, but the ruling could be appealed before the end of January, and it has been.

It is naturally a secret who has appealed the case. It is known to be two of the implied suspects – for example, the President of the Brazilian Football Confederation and upcoming World Cup host, Ricardo Teixeira. It could also be the President of the South American Football Confederation Nicolás Leoz, whose name has already been confirmed officially in the ISL case. It could be the President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Issa Hayatou, who had to collect a reprimand from his colleagues at the International Olympic Committee in December, as they believed that the BBC and British reporter Andrew Jennings had provided sufficient evidence that Hayatou had unduly received 100,000 French francs from the ISL in 1995.

The Olympic humiliation was, however, not worse than Hayatou was greeted with applause at the following Executive Committee meeting at FIFA. You see it before your own eyes and sense that the relationship between the two most powerful bodies in world sport is pretty tense. 

Teixeira, Hayatou and Leoz are all members of FIFA’s Executive Committee, and therefore it is not just a question of establishing the historical truth to get their involvement in the ISL documented and judged. These three, and several other tainted members of FIFA’s elite, will in the coming year decide which political reforms should be put in place to help curb corruption in FIFA, so it is extremely important to be clear about their conduct up to now.

In spite of his promise to reopen the ISL case, Blatter also has an objective interest in dragging out the publication of the document or dropping it all together. According to Andrew Jennings, Blatter could decide at anytime to put the documents on FIFA’s website, but he is burdened by the secret documents himself.

Havelange stood to get two to three years’ suspension

The man who, with his appeal, ensures that the ISL case will now come before the Swiss Supreme Court could also be the oldest fox in sport’s political games – former FIFA President João Havelange, who is 95 years old and was once Sepp Blatter’s mentor.

Havelange was, more than anyone else, put in his place – in fact, put out of place – when the IOC handled the ISL affair in December. After 48 years as an IOC member, Havelange was pushed to step down from the IOC with regard to his age and health a few days before he otherwise would have been asked to leave.

The reason could be what Andrew Jennings had already exposed mid-way through the last decade: In 1997 FIFA received a bank transfer of a million dollars from the ISL by mistake. The transfer roused panic at FIFA’s headquarters because the amount should never have been entered on FIFA’s bank statements. It was, Jennings demonstrates, intended for João Havelange’s private bank book for reasons we can only speculate about.

According to Play the Game’s own information the IOC’s leadership was ready to suspend Havelange for two to three years because of the incident. Why he was not faced with a life suspension is partly due to the fact that the incident happened a number of years back and partly because that even a couple of years’ suspension can have far-reaching implications for a 95-year-old – with all due respect for Havelange’s undeniable sense of survival.  

Faced with this disgrace Havelange chose to leave of his own accord, so the case’s file could be put back on the secret shelves. Therefore we do not know its details fully.

IOC has upheld the spirit of its reforms

Havelange’s and Hayatou’s examples clearly show that the International Olympic Committee has learned a considerable amount more from the so-called Salt Lake City scandal, which shook the IOC’s foundations in 1998, than FIFA has learned from a soon to be one-and-a-half-year flood of political and economic scandals.

This in spite of – or because of – the fact that football’s scandals involve much larger sums of money and are woven even deeper into FIFA’s entire political structure. No-one in FIFA has felt any desire to comment on Havelange’s greed or his fall from the Olympic summits. In FIFA his status as Honorary President is undisputed.

By contrast, the IOC has managed to uphold the spirit of the reforms they were compelled to introduce after a number of its members sold their votes to Salt Lake City’s candidacy to host the Winter Olympic Games.

The IOC cannot be accused of harbouring warm feelings for Andrew Jennings, who in the 1990s revealed the late IOC President Samaranch’s past in the Spanish extreme right-wing Falangist movement and uncovered countless cases of corruption and cheating in Olympic sport. To call Jennings “hated” among international sports federations in sport’s stronghold Lausanne is a mild understatement.

The IOC still chose to react when Jennings publicised in a BBC program in November 2010 three names of IOC members with their fingers in the ISL pie (in addition to the two mentioned was the President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Senegalese Lamine Diack).

One can rightly argue that the IOC should have punished all three more severely. Imagine if Havelange had accepted his punishment and had then returned to invite the whole of the IOC to his 100th birthday at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, as he promised when Rio won the hosting rights in Copenhagen in 2009. It would be a PR disaster: The king of football corruption and a new IOC President cut the cake together with 100 Olympic torches...

In Jacques Rogge’s time as IOC President the line has been clear. It is no longer possible to be overtly corrupt as an IOC member. Despite the collegial respect that lies behind the relatively mild decisions, Rogge has certainly made himself unpopular in the powerful federations FIFA and IAAF with his latest decisions.

Ineffectual recommendations against match-fixing

While the IOC deserves credit for following the ISL case through to completion, things look different when it comes to the fight against today’s sports enemy number one: Match-fixing and illegal betting.

Last week the IOC unveiled the preliminary results of a project a group of handpicked experts and representatives from politics and sport have been working on for almost a year. 

The recommendations for curbing an illegal betting market worth hundreds of billions of dollars can be summarised as follows:

  • Sports organisations should educate their athletes, coaches, officials, etc
  • National and international authorities should communicate as broadly to the public as possible
  • The Council of Europe, IOC, UN and their peers should establish a network of national betting authorities so they can exchange more information
  • The working group will continue to discuss how to create a common monitoring and information system between betting operators, and how to share information between sports organisations, governments, betting operators and intergovernmental institutions such as Interpol, among others, during major competitions and disciplinary procedures
  • Nations that do not already have effective legislation against illegal betting will be encouraged to implement one
  • Sports organisations should tighten their own rules against cheating and collusion
  • There is a need to investigate how international conventions can be used in the fight against match-fixing and illegal betting

There is nothing wrong with these recommendations in themselves. But one could ask how 50-odd sharp minds have been able to spend 11 months on agreeing on proposals that anyone with a small amount of insight into the field could have written down in half an afternoon before the ambitious working group had even made a start.

The result of the IOC’s high profile work is frighteningly ineffective – and it will probably not scare the international crime syndicates who, with their advanced technology and unscrupulous middlemen, are persuading athletes, referees, coaches, organisation leaders and other key figures to fix sporting events. 

It looks like sport has in particular aimed for a minimal solution under the premise: Nothing new must happen. It must not cost money. And nothing must ever come out of it. But it should spawn some wonderful political speeches. This recipe has been tried before during the many decades in which sport turned its back to the doping problem. It was not, as it turned out, a very sustainable strategy.

The mafia grows while sport holds back

The IOC seems to be fixated on the idea that the debate on match-fixing should not lead to the formation of an international agency against corruption in sport as a parallel to WADA in the anti-doping field.

This proposal, which Play the Game made in 2006, has since been put forward by a range of experts and sports organisations. WADA itself has suggested that the experience gained in the fight against doping in the fields of education, investigation and information sharing should be built upon also with regard to match fixing.

Over the past year WADA’s Director General, David Howman, has given strong warnings about the organised crime that is increasingly infiltrating into and earning money on sport. 

It is possible that other models for effectively countering international organised crime can be found. It is also possible that we can build greatly on existing supranational institutions, as the IOC recommendations suggest.

But it is almost impossible to imagine that the IOC can create the broad, global political determination and decision-making through such a tightly controlled process, where only a handful of governments and selected international agencies have been allowed to get involved, where Europeans dominate the picture although the problems are deeply rooted in Asia, and where a number of important issues seem to be taboo, including the key question: How can sports organisations be trustworthy and effective partners in a fight against match-fixing when they do not have the courage to tackle corruption in their own ranks, at neither an international nor a national level?

Let me give you a gentle reminder that Play the Game 2011 at the German Sports University in Cologne ended with the “Cologne Consensus” – a statement from the approximately 300 participants calling on the IOC to take the lead in convening a global conference on good governance in sport. This invitation was neither answered with a yes nor a no, but with a reference to all of the good work the IOC has already set forth.

There is still a glimmer of hope that the IOC will invite a wider range of countries, organisations and stakeholders to an open debate on how we can solve the most serious threat to sport to date. But for every day sport hesitates, the mafia forces strengthen their grip on sport. 

When we told you a year ago about the IOC’s new project on match-fixing, we were also able to cite a previously unheard confession from an honorary member of the IOC, Hungarian Tamás Aján, who is also the President of the International Weightlifting Federation. Corruption has spread throughout sports federations, said Aján, and there is more to come. At the EU’s yearly Sport Forum he practically begged the EU Commission to intervene.

At the end of the 1990s it was the EU, the USA and a number of Commonwealth countries that came to the fore when it was revealed that sport neither could, nor wanted to engage more effectively in the fight against doping. The treaty at the time did not allow the EU to lead sports politics. The Lisbon treaty does today, and this has already been reflected in the fact that a number of organisations – including Play the Game – have recently received project funding to develop a better culture of governance in sport.

Furthermore, the EU’s sports minister has set up an expert group that will come up with some recommendations in this area at the end of 2012. Play the Game is also represented here.

The EU’s interest is one of many signs that the governments’ patience with major sports federations has its limits. There is a risk that the governments will take over the conductor’s baton if the Olympic world continues to turn a deaf ear to the music.

Jens Sejer Andersen is International Director of Play the Game