Good governance in sport requires government engagement
Speech by the international director of Play the Game, Jens Sejer Andersen, at the 13th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers Responsible for Sport, Magglingen, Switzerland, 18 September 2014
Mr. Secretary General, Madam Commissioner, Ministers, Heads of delegations, parliamentarians, delegates from government and sport, colleagues, friends… ladies and gentlemen
In a few hours we are going to share a moment that is likely to become defining for the future of world sport. The signatures that many of you will add to the Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions, represents a breakthrough in the fight against some of the worst threats related to modern sport.
One virtue of the convention is that match-fixing is addressed as much more than an individual problem of athletes that cheat. It is seen as a societal problem, a challenge of industrial scale. The common wish to combat organised transnational crime paves new ways for the cooperation between governments, the sports movement and other stakeholders.
This is a remarkable achievement for the Council of Europe, and yet it evokes at least one important question which is the issue of the debate this morning:
If some sports organisations are at risk of corruption, or taken over already by corrupt people and practices, how can they act as credible partners in the fight against match-fixing?
Please bear in mind that match-fixing is not the only area where it is relevant to ask this question. At the MINEPS V conference last year in Berlin, you, the ministers, and your colleagues from all over the world defined a series of challenges that must be solved in cooperation between the sports movement, its stakeholders and public authorities.
You asked for more sustainable mega-events leaving behind fewer white elephants and more benefits for the societies that pay to host them. You wished to strengthen female participation in sport and sport leadership. You confirmed that doping and doping trade are still major threats. And you called for a sports life that is open and safe for all age groups and skills, so we can break the circle of declining physical activity in most of the world.
If the sports movement is to act as a trustworthy and efficient partner in overcoming these global challenges, one common denominator is required: a much better governance standard than today, especially in national and international governing bodies.
But how bad is it?
At the EU Sports Forum three years ago we heard a surprising eyewitness account. At the end of a long and boring debate, the microphone was taken by a little, rounded and friendly man, an honorary IOC member, a man who has served his federation as General Secretary and President since 1975, and he delivered an astonishing confession.
He said that corruption was everywhere in the international sports federations. It was influencing elections, allocation of mega-events, even doping tests. He called for public awareness, because without the help of the public no solutions could be found. He urged the EU Commissioner to intervene.
If nothing happened, the future would be difficult, he said. New groups of sport leaders were emerging from countries where money seemed to grow on trees, and they could buy all the influence they wished.
This stark warning was delivered by one of the most experienced sports leaders of our times, the Hungarian President of the International Weightlifting Federation, Tamás Aján.
So if you thought that corruption in sport was mainly a problem for football and FIFA, you will have to think twice.
FIFA has indeed an impressive track record with regard to corruption, and has so far only made half-hearted attempts to curb it. FIFA played the dominant role in sport’s biggest known corruption scheme, the so-called ISL affair, in which at least 142 million Swiss Franc – or almost 90 million euros – were given to a small group of sports leaders in return for profitable TV and marketing contracts.
Still, around 75 percent of these generous bribes are not accounted for. To avoid overlaps I leave the analysis of FIFA to the next speaker, Mr. Connarty.
Time does not allow a full overview on the well-documented cases of mismanagement and corruption that Play the Game collaborators have uncovered over the past decade, so I will focus on just one example:
One of the most global and popular sports, volleyball, is ruled by the Fédération internationale du Volleyball – the FIVB - which has assets worth around 150 million US-dollars.
This federation is still struggling with the legacy left by its former president, the Mexican Rubén Acosta, who retired in 2008. Acosta introduced some very special rules with and without the approval of his general assembly.
One rule was that every person who signs a contract on behalf of the FIVB is entitled to ten percent of the value as a personal commission. The second rule: All contracts are signed by the President. It is proven that Acosta helped himself to at least 33 million US-dollars this way, not to mention the profits he earned when his privately owned companies made deals with the FIVB.
Six years after his departure, Acosta’s ghost still rumbles in the corridors of the FIVB in various ways:
Acosta himself has taken the FIVB to court in Lausanne in order to get further 5 million US-dollars which he believes the federation owes him for contracts that continued to run for many years after his departure. The people who are in charge of the FIVB today all accepted his commissions when they were his loyal yes-men, so legally he may have a good case.
In contrast, the man who started blowing the whistle on Acosta 12 years ago and documented his appalling corruption to the world public, has had a bitter fate. The former Argentinian volleyball president Mario Goijman was severely punished for taking a critical position. Goijman and his whole federation were expelled from all volleyball competitions, and the FIVB refused to pay more than 800,000 dollars that they owed Argentina for hosting the World Championship and for which Goijman was personally liable to local creditors.
Today, Mario Goijman lives under pitiful conditions outside Buenos Aires, financially and psychologically ruined, evicted by force from his house, deprived of all personal possessions and a living example of the risk that whistleblowers in sport run.
Last, but not least, the president of world volleyball since 2012, Ary Graça from Brazil, seems to have learned a lot from his years as a close ally of Acosta.
A few months ago, Ary Graça was forced to leave his home position as president of Brazilian volleyball when ESPN Brasil documented that he had given contracts worth four million US-dollar to two of his closest collaborators in the Brazilian volleyball confederation. They received the money for sponsor consulting they never gave. Also Ary Graça’s two sons-in-law have benefitted from secret business contracts.
Now the Brazilian state controllers are investigating the way Ary Graça managed his home federation which has been funded directly and indirectly by public money in the 17 years he presided over it. The illegitimate contracts are torn apart, but one of the beneficiaries probably does not care too much.
Fabio Azevedo may not receive all of the four millions dollars the thought he would get from the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation, but instead Ary Graça has secured him a new job. Today Fabio Azavedo is the General Director of the International Volleyball Federation.
So world volleyball is today ruled by two men who recently signed secret contracts to enrich themselves and their families. Can we trust they will manage the politics, the business and the public information to the best interest of millions of volleyball players?
I leave the question open while briefly noting that volleyball is not a lonely case. I could have told about the Egyptian President of the International Handball Federation Hassan Moustafa who is investigated by German prosecutors for taking at least 602,000 Euros in commission for commercial contracts. He has manipulated Olympic qualifiers, he is personally supervising the doping control that should be independent, he has for more than a decade refused to recognize the existence of clubs in handball, and he has been travelling for hundreds of thousands of dollars without presenting a receipt.
Or we could go back to Tamás Aján from weightlifting who knows some tricks himself. Internal auditing in 2011 revealed that since 1993 Aján placed all grants from the IOC to the International Weightlifting Federation into two secret bank accounts in Switzerland which only he had access to. At least five million US-dollars seem to have disappeared mysteriously.
Although the case stories may be colourful, corruption in sport is rather a consequence of bad structures than of bad persons. In short, the amateur association structures of sport have not been able to carry the weight of the huge commercial success they have gone through.
As the Irish author Oscar Wilde once said: “I can resist everything – except temptation”. A lot of temptation is offered in professional sport, and there are rarely internal or external control mechanisms to help the sports leaders resist.
A survey carried out by Play the Game and six European universities among 35 Olympic Federations in 2012 showed that only one third had ethics committees, audit committees or financial committees, and only one had a really independent ethics committee. Less than a handful had objective and transparent criteria for handing out development funds. Other research shows that less than half of the federations publish their financial reports or show them on request.
The survey was part of project with EU support in which Play the Game and the six universities developed a tool called the Sports Governance Observer.
The aim of the Sports Governance Observer is to help international and national sports federations improve their performance in vital areas like transparency, accountability, democracy and solidarity.
If you have any interest in improving sports governance at home or at the international level, you can pick a flyer in the lobby and also contact our main governance expert Arnout Geeraert or myself.
Government intervention in sport is a delicate matter. One of the fundamental democratic rights is the right to freely form and run associations, and I think we should all recognize the values that the hundreds of thousands of small, volunteer sports associations brings to our European nations.
There is, however, a very big difference between the little gymnastics association in the nearby village and the national or international federations that are driving a global, immensely profitable entertainment industry.
In the sports business sector with its rapid and growing circulation of big money, association freedom can easily be perverted and turn sport into a greenhouse for tax evasions, bribes, abuse of labour and international organised crime.
This is the lesson learned from studies of matchfixing, doping, trafficking and other threats to sport and society, and the lesson unmistakably points to the need for better governance in sport.
So how can you, the governments, act against the vices of sport without infringing on the freedom of association?
I have five specific proposals you may consider:
First of all, it is your right and duty to protect tax-payers money. Sport is receiving massive public subsidies at all levels, from support to grass-root activities and local sports facilities, to investment in bidding campaigns for big events, talent development etcetera. In return, public authorities are entitled to demand sufficient standards of transparency and accountability.
Secondly, you can maintain a permanent public pressure on sports organisations, insisting that all potential scandals are fully clarified, as well as providing your federations with the tools they need to improve their governance.
Thirdly, the Council of Europe could take the lead in establishing a framework for regular dialogue between the international sports bodies and the governments. Within this framework, you can define guidelines for the distribution of roles between civil society and public authorities, and you can set minimum standards for good governance in sport.
Four: To kick-start this process I would like to echo a call from 300 experts attending our Play the Game 2011 conference in Cologne. They asked for a global conference on all forms of corruption in sport. Perhaps the Council of Europe could invite to such a conference in cooperation with UNESCO?
Last, but not least, let me address the elephant in the room. Everybody says that we need international coordination to fight corruption in sport, but nobody seems to know who is going to carry this coordination out.
Do you find it likely that coordination will happen by itself, via a kind of Immaculate Conception?
I suggest Europe should take the lead in establishing an international clearing house for integrity in sport, an institution that could ensure the coordination, facilitate exchange of information, and promote best practices in the fight against various kinds of corruption in sport.
It may cost a bit of money, but to leave things undone can have an even higher price.
Mr. Chairman, ministers, delegates…
With the tremendous impact that sport has on our daily lives in terms of education, entertainment, economy, health, community life, urban planning, personal development and other vital areas, we need sports leaders we can trust and sports organisations that can deliver.
This will not come about without your active engagement and readiness to take the next steps in the fight against corruption in sport.