PtG Article 07.10.2019

Sport - A victim of crooks or a partner in crime

At Play the Game 2019 top speakers from IOC and UEFA along with investigators looking into corruption in FIFA will debate governance related issues in the biggest sports organisations.

Only five years ago, this scene was unthinkable:

A Swiss luxury hotel hosting the congress of the world’s most powerful sports organisation is raided at the break of dawn by a team of Swiss and American police taking out seven top members of the football family.

Or the Vice-President of the International Olympic Committee sleeping peacefully during the Olympics in Rio when – “knock, knock” – the Brazilian police comes to pick him up as God created him, accompanied by rolling cameras.

Not the kind of broadcast sports fans were expecting to get for their TV subscriptions.

Governance reformers vs. Olympic Crime

In the past few years, reality has surpassed imagination more than once, when criminal investigations have been started against top leaders in sport who believed that they belonged to a class of untouchables, a level of society above the rule of law. But they do not. Football leaders related to the American continents have received severe punishments or had them reduced if they cooperated with the police.

Several high ranking members of the Olympic family, from the once so powerful sheikh Ahmad from Kuwait to the lesser known Norwegian biathlon president Besseberg, are under criminal investigation. Public prosecutors in Switzerland, Austria, France, Australia, Norway, Colombia, Brazil, the U.S. and other countries are working overtime with limited resources and lots of legal obstacles to gather evidence against the crooks of sport.

How could this happen, and what can governments and sports organisations do today to prevent crime and corruption among those who should think more about their sport than about their personal enrichment.

It took years of denial before honest sports leaders recognised that they could and should no longer close their eyes and accept criminal behaviour from their peers, as long as business was thriving. Today, good governance is – as the longest serving IOC member Richard W. Pound will express it in his presentation at Play the Game 2019, “the new mantra in sport”. He will be joined by journalist Jens Weinreich who will speak about why governments must combat Olympic crime, and chairman of the Athletics Integrity Unit, David Howman, who willshine a light on sports integrity. More top speakers will share their views and thoughts in this session such as WADA Vice-president Linda Helleland, secretary general of the International Ski Federation, Sarah Lewis, and lawyer and attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, Evan Norris.

Focus on FIFA

In a parallel session, Miguel Poiares Maduro, the man who barred Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko from FIFA leadership and were removed as chair of FIFA Governance, will explain why FIFA cannot reform itself. Known as the FIFA whistleblower, Bonita Mersiades will give her take on FIFA and her work on exposing corruption and governance issues within the world of football. Delegates will also hear Middle East expert James M. Dorsey who will share views and thoughts on the case of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Benchmarking sports governance

Every sports body today is against corruption and for better governance. But are they honest, and can they deliver, if the whole culture of sports has been shaped over years of mismanagement?

This is what Play the Game tries to benchmark in its Sports Governance Observer project which was first launched in 2015. The benchmarking tool was refined in 2018 and five international federations put under renewed scrutiny. At Play the Game 2019, the fresh results for six international federations will be launched, together with National Sports Governance Observer results for six countries: Australia, Canada, Colombia, Georgia, Lithuania and the USA.

Good governance, sports integrity and building governance networks will also be on the agenda, with examples of governance reforms from around the world of sport.

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Governance and crime will be up one of the topics for debate at Play the Game 2019.

You can see the full programme, the list of speakers and all other information you need about the conference at the conference website.

Play the Game 2019 would not be possible without the generous support from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, and a great number of sponsors in Colorado Springs and Denmark. You can see the list of sponsors here.