Meet the Challenges

Vice-President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, comments on good governance and corruption in sport. Photo: DOSB.


Comment by Thomas Bach
Comment: In this second contribution to Play the Game’s exclusive comment series on corruption in sport leading up to the Play the Game 2011 conference, Thomas Bach, Vice-President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), highlights the need to protect sport, which integrity, credibility and reputation are threatened by doping, corruption and manipulation of competitions.

The Olympic Movement is alive, fit and strong. The Olympic Games attract and inspire millions of athletes and even more fans - people of all ages and cultures in every corner of the world. The Olympic Movement plays a more significant role than ever before.

At the same time, however, it faces new challenges. 

Sport in general, and the Olympic Movement in particular, need to protect their integrity and credibility, especially when it comes to the credibility of sports competitions and the credibility and reputation of sports organisations.

Sport’s integrity, credibility and reputation are threatened by doping, corruption and manipulation. These threats attack the very foundation of sport. Therefore, fighting them and protecting the integrity of sport is a top priority for the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Sport is completely dependent on its credibility, i.e. on the credibility of sports competitions and on the credibility and reputation of sports organisations.

For sports competitions, we have adopted clear, strict and international rules, which we apply resolutely. We have created supporting structures, sometimes with the participation of political partners, such as in the case of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), various national anti-doping agencies and, not least, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Sports organisations follow a whole range of regulations and codes, for example the IOC’s Code of Ethics, which was created and which is supervised by the corresponding independent Commission.

At the founding assembly of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) in 2006, I announced the appointment of a corporate governance commissioner. In the following months we developed and implemented corporate governance rules together with relevant NGOs. The corporate governance commissioner is now elected by the General Assembly for four years, and has to deliver a report to the DOSB General Assembly every year.

From my point of view, every sports organisation at every level would be well advised to introduce and to comply with such rules of ethics and the principles of good governance. 

At first glance, defining good governance appears fairly simple. In a United Nations Commission paper, governance is defined as “the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented)”.

However, the concept of good governance includes not only the simple description of a process, but also, and in particular, the ethical aspects of that process.

The basic elements of a code of good governance for sports organisations are:

  • It is necessary to define the vision and mission of the organisation and to develop a strategy for achieving its goals.

  • Clear, democratic and efficient structures must be created, as well as clear and transparent rules for decision-making without corruption or any kind of manipulation. This includes rules dealing with members' conflicts of interests.

  • It is vital to establish a clear definition of internal competences, including a system of checks and balances, and to promote democratic decision-making through good internal communication.

  • Internal responsibilities should be defined by means of rules and standards, and accounting and auditing processes should comply with general standards. Moreover, financial processes should be transparent.

  • Clear and transparent rules should be created for the distribution of financial revenues.

  • Sports organisations should involve active athletes in decision-making and protect and promote their rights at all levels.

  • Sports organisations should work in partnership with governments.

The application of these rules of good governance at all levels of sport will also influence the internal organisation and structure of sports organisations, making them more transparent, more credible and more reputable. This will certainly have a positive impact on the stakeholders of sport and sports organisations in spheres such as politics, business, society and the media. This relationship with stakeholders from outside the Olympic Movement should therefore be characterised by the principles of respect for autonomy, responsibility and reliability.

The rules of good governance also require that the interests of these stakeholders are taken into account, that their interests are disclosed and discussed, but that decisions are then taken by the sports organisations themselves. 

At the same time, however, the autonomy of sport has limits. Whilst safeguarding our non-negotiable principles, responsibilities and freedom, which are to be respected by our partners, sport is clearly not a self-sufficient island in the sea of society. Sport does not exist in isolation.

In order to achieve our objectives and to disseminate our values, we need partners in politics and society. This is true for our efforts to protect sport from the increasing risks caused by irregular betting, corruption and any kind of manipulation. 

In our fight against doping we have means to respond the threat and defend our zero-tolerance policy effectively: doping tests, the principles and requirements of a comprehensive obligation to report whereabouts; the rule of being available for tests any time; the principle of strict liability; and alleviation of the standard of proof and reversal of evidence. But these instruments do not work when it comes to meeting the challenges of irregular betting and corruption.

Cheating driven by betting poses the biggest threat to the integrity of sport after doping.  Even though all forms of betting are as old as organised sport itself, the potential and temptations for corruption have grown exponentially with the ever-developing possibilities and anonymity of the internet. We are convinced that, in all these areas, cooperation with governments is essential to ensure that our athletes can compete in fair and clean sports events. 

The IOC, under the leadership of President Jacques Rogge, has been tackling the problem since 2006. We call upon the support of governments in a similar way to that we did in 1998 when creating the World Anti-Doping Agency. We are currently encouraging all partners of the Olympic Movement to adopt rules that forbid athletes, coaches and sports officials from betting on sports. We have to work with lotteries, betting companies and everyone else involved in the staging of clean sport. 

The IOC first took preventive measures to tackle the problem of illegal and irregular betting five years ago when the Code of Ethics was amended to forbid all participants in the Olympic Games from betting on Olympic events. We have been proactive in these efforts ever since.

To safeguard the integrity of the Olympic Games is, of course, our ultimate objective. The IOC monitored betting activities at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 and Vancouver in 2010, and no irregular patterns occurred. But we know how important it is to unify the approach of sport against the threat in order to protect the integrity of sport in general. 

In order to strengthen collaboration with partners inside and outside the Olympic Movement, the IOC set up a dedicated working group in March this year. Reports will be presented before the end of 2011. 

The establishment and full application of rules on good governance and a zero tolerance policy against any kind of corruption and manipulation of sport competitions or within sport organisations are absolutely necessary in order to maintain and regain the credibility of sport and its organisations.

This will make the inherent great social values of sport even more obvious to young people and to the general public. 

Thomas Bach is Vice-President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and President of German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB).

Read more about the comment series on corruption in sport.

  • Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, Canada, 09.09.2011 10:46:
    Mr. Bach has been an IOC member since 1991, and a member of the IOC executive board since 1996. Regrettably, there is little evidence that his commendable ethical stance, as revealed in the above presentation, had an impact on the IOC before the 1998 bribery scandal.

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