Chutzpah, Complicity and a Conflict of Interest


Comment by Declan Hill
Crikey! There is so much stuff coming in about sports corruption this week it is difficult to sort it all out.

To start with a case of what must be a contender for the Chutzpah of the Year Award – the management of Juventus. A quick definition of Chutzpah – the Hebrew word for pure cheek – is the man who murders his mother and father and then thrown himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. Juventus had their Italian 2004-5, 2005-2006 league titles stripped because their club officials were found guilty of prolonged and persistent bribing and intimidation of referees. Their former general manager who directed much of this corruption is now on trial in Naples. During that trial it was alleged that Internazionale Milano (the team that was given the titles in place of Juventus) also may have corrupted referees. So Juventus is now asking that its titles be given back! The simple answer is no – if Inter Milan is genuinely discovered to have bribed and intimidated referees as Juventus did, then the Italian Football Federation should go down the league until they can find the highest-placed honest team (by some reckoning that might be in the middle of Serie B!) and give the league title to them.


To a more serious subject. The corruption allegations swirling around FIFA and the decision to award the World Cup shows why sport desperately needs an independent anti-corruption agency. Sepp Blatter is the president of FIFA. He does not get elected by football fans, he does not gets elected by European sports journalists, not even by a vote of Canadian journalists/academics. Rather, Blatter gets elected by FIFA national executives; these are the same people he is currently supposed to be investigating. This scenario is called a ‘conflict of interest’. In most industries and companies much time is spent devising ways so that people are not placed in this position. If you have problems figuring out the issues around the FIFA case, then just imagine you are put in charge of leading an investigation against your direct boss and then reporting to him the findings of your investigation. Then two weeks later you want to ask him for a Christmas bonus. Good luck with that request, if you have led a proper investigation.

Sport needs an independent authority who can properly investigate cases like FIFA and the World Cup. The decision of where to award the World Cup is massive. It is the world’s biggest sporting tournament. It involves billions of dollars. It involves the entire national sporting infrastructure of the bidding countries. The Sunday Times investigation against FIFA’s bid process has revealed a culture of widespread potential corruption. It needs a properly resourced, well-run organization that can deal with this case in a serious way.

This comment was first published on Declan Hill's Blog on 28 October 2010, and is republished on Play the Game's website with kind permission from the author.


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