PtG Article 25.10.2015

Hit dubious organisations where it hurts - the wallet

The second half of the opening session of Play the Game 2015 focused on FIFA reform and the ongoing criminal enquiry into corruption at the organisation.

Taking the stage after the official welcome speeches, Jonathan Calvert, editor of the Insight team at Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, told Play the Game that members of his team had gone undercover, posing as lobbyists in an attempt to seek favours from current and former FIFA executives.

Two members of FIFA’s Executive Committee had been willing to sell their World Cup hosting votes, he said, and all of those asked had freely stated that bribes must be paid in order to win a hosting bid. When presented with the evidence, he said, FIFA suspended those who had incriminated themselves – and did little else.

In 2014, Calvert said, his team came into possession of an enormous cache of documents related to the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups that shed light on the activities of Qatari football administrator and former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam. Prior to Qatar’s confirmation as the host of the 2022 World Cup, he said, bin Hammam had traveled the world making payments to football officials through ten different slush funds.

When the evidence was presented to FIFA World Cup bid investigator Michael Garcia for inclusion in his report, his team was told that the “evidence-gathering part of the enquiry” was already completed, Calvert said

Co-authored by Calvert and Insight team member Heidi Blake, a new book entitled ‘The Ugly Game’ claims that bin Hammam was asked not to stand for election to the FIFA presidency in 2011, in return for Sepp Blatter’s support for Qatar’s 2022 bid.

“You must scrap the entire organisation and start again,” Calvert said. “It’s the only way to root out corruption.”

Lack of transparency

Former World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) President and long-time anti-doping campaigner Richard W. Pound said that FIFA’s current governance was a “nightmare” with an “astonishing lack of transparency”. Inherent vested interests and conflicts of interest made reform highly difficult, he said.

However, Pound pointed out that the International Olympic Committee [IOC] had emerged from its own governance crisis following the bribery scandal associated with the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Following corruption revelations, he said, the IOC underwent a comprehensive reform process over several years, which could serve as an example for FIFA.

Sponsors, he continued, would likely have a significant bearing on FIFA’s reform process as no sponsor wants a brand to be associated with corruption. It is also within the powers of governments to disallow tax deductions for payments made to organisations with dubious ethics, he pointed out.

“The place where they feel pain is in their wallets, so we should hit them where it hurts” he said.

The IOC still faces issues such as a propensity to see Olympic bids as “one size fits all” with an over-concentration of facilities, he said. Olympic sport should also acknowledge and adapt to the “dramatically-short attention spans” of younger people, Pound said. “But we should not allow all Olympic sport to be dictated by that generation.”

Sport remains unique in its ability to entertain, he said, with a minimum need for language. However, he added that unwillingness to confront serious governance problems, weak leadership, and a lack of commitment to ethical standards continue to be major concerns.

Organised crime

Nicholas Cheviron, a supervisor and special agent with the FBI who oversees the organization's sports bribery and match fixing investigations, told Play the Game delegates that the most significant criminal threat facing sport comes from organised crime. Dismantling of criminal groups will help to protect the integrity of sport, he said.

Initial FIFA investigations targeted CONCACAF’s headquarters in New York and the abuse of the US banking system, Cheviron said. Of the many instances of corruption that the investigation uncovered, he said, concerned the bidding process for the 2006 World Cup in South Africa. Former FIFA Executive Committee  member Jack Warner was allegedly offered one million dollars from Morocco for his vote, he said, which was then bettered by a bribe of USD ten million from the eventual hosts, South Africa.

Sport by proxy has historically generated huge amounts of illicit money through match-fixing and illegal gambling activities, Cheviron said. While match-fixing has a relatively low profile within the FBI, he said, the strategy to target organised crime often covers match-fixing and the use of illegal internet sports books, which he described as a huge threat.

Discreditation of whistleblowers

Bonita Mersiades, FIFA reform activist and whistleblower from Australia’s 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup bids, talked about her career following her sacking from her nation’s Football Association (FFA). Most recently, she said, she has been active in helping found the FIFA reform group ‘#NewFIFANow’, a campaign to reshape the organisation into a fully accountable entity.

Mersiades has experienced instances of online hacking and harassment, she said and one of the attacks had been traced back to Zurich.  Attempts have been made to discredit her in the Australian media, she said, including allegations of affairs and the portrayal of her as the “woman who lost Australia the World Cup”.

Michael Garcia’s controversial FIFA report into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process included a statement that Mersiades had “undermined her own credibility by talking to the media”. However, given the  widespread dismissal of the censored report, she said, this claim was hardly surprising. Like the Berlin Wall, FIFA’s days are numbered and at some point it will crumble, Mersiades said.

Should athletes have fewer rights?

Former member of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC), now the International Cricket Council (ICC)’s Ethics Officer, Peter Nicholson presented Play the Game delegates with a number of suggestions designed to fight corruption and cheating. In international criminal investigations, he pointed out, an investigation can be launched upon suspicion that wrongdoing has occurred. However, in international sport, similar mechanisms for governing bodies to initiate investigations upon reasonable grounds do not appear to exist.

A number of points need to be addressed, he said. Given the number of legal substances that can be taken by athletes, a new definition of what “being clean” entails is needed. Also, he said, sports bodies need to look into how athletes can better reconcile their inherent “will to win” with being clean, especially when they can see that the playing field is not level.

If we recognise that it is a privilege to be an elite athlete, he said, could we introducea new set of rules, or a new contract where athletes are less entitled to the benefit of the doubt? While he did not support banning athletes under investigation from competition, he suggested that medals or price money could be withheld until an investigation is completed. Investigators from outside sport should be used, he said, preferably those with government clearance.

He welcomed the international cycling body UCI’s recent decision to bring historic testing into the sport. Under the new system,  test results will be retained for ten years and will be re-tested when newer, more advanced tests become available. The current “on the spot” testing system at the Tour de France is a waste of money, he said, because no athlete would use drugs in competition that can be detected by existing tests.

New benchmarking tool

Dr. Arnout Geeraert from the University of Leuven and Play the Game summarised a new report into the state of governance in the 35 Olympic federations entitled ‘The Sports Governance Observer 2015’. The report shows, that the majority of the international federations have flawed institutional design, characterised by bad governance.

Geeraert described the new benchmarking tool with 36 indicators, which he said had been applied to world governing bodies. In general, the research shows that the 35 Olympic federations have a flawed institutional design, he said, and senior sports officials are not sufficiently incentivised to act in accordance with the interest of their sport.

Read more about the Sports Governance Observer 2015