PtG Comment 27.06.2012

Corruptibilitis: A European remedy for a global epidemic?

The Olympic ticket scandal is a symptom of a more widespread disease in the Olympic family. Europe looks for a remedy, but will Rogge add reform to his own legacy?

Though Sundays according to the Bible are made for resting, sport has a long tradition of using the holiday for an intense activity schedule. But the activity forced upon the IOC leadership and at least 27 National Olympic Committee officials and commercial agents on the past Sunday the 17 June was not of the kind that they and the sports world is longing for.

On that day the British newspaper The Sunday Times laid out evidence that 27 persons affiliated to in total 54 NOC’s were involved in ticket touting for the upcoming London Olympics.

Big quantities of attractive tickets to key events in London were entrusted them by the official ticketing system, but they were ready to sell them on, at several times face value, through non-authorised channels and to foreign countries. All of which is in flagrant breach of the Olympic rules.

Not only did they break the rules, many of them confessed to The Sunday Times undercover reporters that this was an unlawful activity, and that the operation had to be secret. The motive of course was money.

It speaks in favour of the IOC leadership that it reacted promptly to the evidence received in advance from The Sunday Times. They called for an emergency Executive Committee meeting already the day before the publication, authorising the IOC Ethics Committee to undertake a thorough and speedy investigation and recommend proper sanctions.

The prominent Swiss ExCo member Denis Oswald has said he could see no future in the Olympic movement for those involved, and the head of the London Olympics, Lord Coe, who usually only use jubilant adjectives, declared that he was not only dismayed, he was outright depressed.

If such thing as an Olympic family exists, everybody with Olympic DNA should not only be depressed, but deeply worried about a disease that seems to run in the family and threatens the family’s reputation and survival.

Let us call this highly infectious disease corruptibilitis. The disease is global and not confined to the sports world, but since it seriously affects the moral judgments of those suffering from it – to the extent that many of them seem to regard it as a privilege being ill – it is of course especially dangerous in an environment striving to improve humanity.

The most prestigious family members – those at the inner ranks of the IOC– have introduced a quite efficient remedy against it at the turn of the millennium, after falling so ill that the IOC was at life risk during the Salt Lake City corruption scandal in 1998. 

Federations not confronted

The reforms introduced 13 years ago have been administered loyally and strictly by IOC President Jacques Rogge and his administration, and the no-tolerance remedy has been applied wherever the IOC can reach out with ease, for instance in relation to the IOC members, to fraudulent employees at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne and presently among ticket touters.

However, with a few notable exceptions like boxing, the IOC top seems to have been looking powerlessly at even more serious outbreaks in the wider Olympic family. The IOC is apparently unwilling or unable to confront the international sports federations, who deliver the competitions to the Olympic Games. 

For instance, the Mexican President of the FIVB from 1984 to 2008, Rubén Acosta, was pressured to lay down his IOC membership in 2004 because of his rampant outbreak of corruptibilitis. But the IOC kept the record of this tormented patient secret to the outside world, so he could continue to enrich himself with volleyball’s money. Today, the FIVB has not fully recovered from the former president’s transfusion of at least 33 million USD to his own bank account.

Also it took more than ten years for the IOC to pronounce itself against the particularly fatal mutation of corruptibilitis with the abbreviation “ISL” – although it was along the way documented in court that family members from especially FIFA, but also other sports federations, were suffering seriously from taking at least 141 million Swiss Francs as personal commissions.

At last, the most senior IOC member, the Brazilian ex-FIFA President João Havelange, who seemed to carry a chronic variant of corruptibilitis, was forced to leave the IOC at the age of 96 shortly before Christmas 2011.

Again, the IOC keeps the record gently closed, and Havelange goes on as an Honorary President of FIFA, an organization which hesitates to quarantine their patients.

How widespread is the disease?

It is worthwhile to look at these and other cases of the past in order to analyse what the most recent outbreak related to Olympic tickets is about. It raises serious concerns about the health situation in the global sports community.

If a relatively small group of investigative reporters from the Sunday Times could diagnose 27 relatives of the Olympic family with relation to 54 NOC’s during a relatively short period of research, how many cases would be discovered by a massive worldwide screening? How many NOC’s could be declared fit and healthy? And if the possession of valuable tickets sparks off many cases of corruptibilitis, how are the same patients affected when handling public subsidies to sport, grants from the IOC and other tangible values? Is it really only a bunch of Olympic tickets that releases the symptoms?

If we are talking about an epidemic, it is unfortunately not one that the world outside sport can allow to spread, leaving it to the Olympic family to find the cure. We are not talking about a family that leads a life in splendid isolation; on the contrary it is active in all spheres and all dimensions of our social life. 

Europe preparing intervention

So although most of those carrying the illness surely would prefer to be let alone and enjoy their ailing health, medical assistance is urgently required in order to limit the risk for the world population at large. And help may be on its way.

Most recently an overwhelming majority of the parliamentarians at the Council of Europe adopted a five-page resolution detailing their concerns. The elected politicians, representing 47 member states, noted that ”in the globalised world of sport, high economic stakes and the uncontrolled incursion of purely financial considerations are seriously jeopardising the ethics of sport and increasing the risk of abuses, or even criminal acts, either by individuals or by organised criminals. Not only are doping, corruption and match-fixing growing insidiously, but other problems are also undermining the world of sport and tarnishing its image.”

The Council of Europe politicians have a particularly watchful eye on the health of FIFA; but it also lays out a general set of recommendations for good governance in sport. But they are not the only doctors searching for a cure. The sports ministers of the European Union have set up an Expert Group on Good Governance in Sport, where stakeholders and governments meet and discuss how corruptibilitis can be contained.

It goes without saying that Europe cannot go alone in finding a cure. Success will be defined by Europe’s ability to invite other continents to join the fight against corruptibilitis, and by the willingness of the international community – the sports community included – to attack the disease by its roots.

A chance for Rogge for a reform legacy

The relatively small staff of the IOC’s headquarters faces a huge task just in dealing with The Sunday Times’ 27 identified cases. It would be unfair and unrealistic to demand that the IOC alone should fight the more widespread family outbreak. The question is to which extent the IOC is prepared to make alliances with governments and other outside stakeholders around the world when it comes to dealing with this sensitive family issue.

Jacques Rogge deserves credit for executing the IOC reforms that was left him as one of the last legacies from his predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch. Rogge is soon entering his own last year at the helmet of the IOC. As an outgoing President he does not have to care about his re-election and is in an ideal position for extending the reforms. As a starting point he could ask his Olympic family to turn its principles of good governance into a system of good governance.

The present ticket scandal indicates that principles and good intentions are inefficient remedies if they stand alone. Which legacy will Rogge leave for his successor? A legacy of a new set of stronger and more far-reaching reforms? Or a legacy of continued corruptibilitis?

This article was written for Sport and Citizenship. Follow Play the Game's EU project on good governance in sport here.