PtG Article 21.01.2011

Swiss MP calls for anti-corruption legislation

In the wake of the corruption allegations that clouded the FIFA World Cup elections in December last year, Swiss politicians now want to put pressure on the sports federations currently enjoying tax exemptions and other fiscal advantages residing in Switzerland.

Switzerland has been the business hub of the Olympic world for almost a century. Switzerland is home to the biggest international sport federations which enjoy exemptions from taxes and other financial advantages. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has its headquarter in Lausanne, the "Capitale Olympique", as have a dozen of olympic sport federations. Football's world governing body FIFA is based in Zurich, and the European Football Union (UEFA) is based in Nyon near Geneva.

None of these multi billion dollar organisations are subject to international anti-corruption treaties and conventions. After the recent revelations about corruption within FIFA and IOC this carefree attitude could change. Swiss politicians want to put pressure on the sports federations.

One of these politicians is Roland Buechel who knows the ropes in the sports business. He used to work for the Swiss Ski Federation and also worked for FIFA and their former marketing agency ISL, organising for example junior world championships. Nowadays Buechel represents the Swiss People's Party (SVP) in the Nationalrat, the Swiss Parliament. The fight against corruption in sport is one of his major concerns. On 2 December 2010, when FIFA's Executive Committee controversially awarded the football World Cup to Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022), Buechel filed an anti-corruption initiative in parliament. This step was backed by a cross-party group of 60 politicians in the Nationalrat.

On 11 January 2011 Buechel wrote an open letter to FIFA President Joseph Blatter and demanded: "Clean up your house!" He asked the FIFA President: "Mr Blatter, why don’t you want to know who of your companions collected these large sums?"

Buechel wants to know the names of the recipients of bribes in the biggest bribery case in sport’s history, the ISL scandal. It is proved that ISL once paid more than 140 million Swiss Francs to corrupt sports officials in FIFA, IOC and other organizations. For years FIFA has tried not to disclose the names and in 2010, following a deal with prosecutors, paid 5.5 million CHF to the state treasury to keep the names of the money takers secret.

Deals like this should be abolished, argues Roland Buechel. "Our parliament has now instructed the Bundesrat, the government, to analyze what happened in sports federations in terms of corruption and transparency. The comprehensive report should be delivered in December 2011. At the same time, if it is necessary, we will have to propose stricter laws."

Swiss Sports Minister Ueli Maurer (SVP) supports the initiative which looks into federation’s structures, corruption, money laundering and other issues. The enquiry will be carried out by the Federal Office for Sports. It will hear independent experts - not only the sports federations in question - and at the same time legislative amendments will be prepared.

Never before have sport associations been under such pressure in their "home country", Switzerland. Alarm bells start ringing in big federations like FIFA and the IOC.

FIFA President Joseph Blatter has attacked investigative journalists and also Roland Buechel in recent interviews. Buechel says: "When the sports federations do not deliver what is required of them, then pressure in Parliament will increase. It is not carved in stone that the major sports associations like the IOC, UEFA and FIFA do not pay taxes. It’s about 500 to 600 million Swiss francs, depending on the calculation, which the state of Switzerland loses every year. So far, the organisations are exempt from taxes, but it does not need to remain so. I have heard a lot of politicians who once approved of exemption in Parliament and who will see it differently now."

Anita Thanei of the Social Democratic Party is head of the legal commission of the Swiss Parliament and will soon be responsible for the topic. She has also submitted a parliamentary initiative in December 2010. She demands changes in the criminal code: sports federations should have the same legal status as all other international organisations and companies based in Switzerland.

"Corruption in office must be prosecuted", Ms Thanei said on Swiss TV. "Private organizations, such as the football associations and all the other sports federations, have been monopolies. Corruption must be fought at all levels." Corrupt sport officials "who have received millions in bribery payments" must not go unpunished, says Ms. Thanei. Switzerland should not remain a safe haven for dubious dealings. With these demands Anita Thanei is in line with Roland Buechel. But he wants more: He wants to penalize sports corruption, for example in the ISL case, retrospectively – at least the names of all bribe-takers should be published and the federations should take actions against them.

"ISL paid more than 100 million Euros to senior officials in FIFA and IOC. Unfortunately, we know only the names in one of ten cases. I demand that FIFA present all names", says Buechel. "If this does not happen, the state will have to take action.”

„Sports federations as FIFA, which hides names of corrupt officials and takes no measures against those who have received millions from the ISL company, are a risk to the reputation of Switzerland."

In recent years, Swiss politicians have always shied away from consequences. They were influenced by sports lobbyists on different fields. Is this happening again?

"I do not think so," says Buechel. "Venality, as we see it in the big family of sport, is not such a big problem among Swiss politicians. Above all, our sports minister Ueli Maurer really wants to know corruption details. So far he has done quite a lot."

Currently it looks as if the initiative could find a cross-party majority. Legislative changes could be made. But FIFA lobbyists are heavily involved right now - the empire strikes back.

Ironically, the SVP minister for sport, Ueli Maurer, has to fight against the legacy of his predecessor and party colleague Samuel Schmid. Former minister Schmid has declared the he was "proud of FIFA" and other major sports associations based in Switzerland. And he enforced the last tax exemption. Coincidence or not? Samuel Schmid still holds a delicate honorary post in the Olympic world – he is a member of the so called IOC Ethics Commission.