As someone who likes to be on the front foot in terms of putting it to sporting bodies about their governance practices and the other big issues facing world sport, I didn’t expect to receive an invitation to speak at a conference put on by the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS).
But I did; and I went yesterday. I very much enjoyed the opportunity to hear from, and meet, so many people from different parts of the sport industry.
In case you don’t know who ICSS are, they are a Doha-based outfit set up by the Qatar Government in 2011. There’s some highly qualified, good people who work there – in fact, the Director is another Aussie, Chris Eaton, who is ex-Australian Federal Police, Interpol and FIFA. I don’t know if it’s just me, but the concept of an organisation backed by the Qatar Government taking a ‘world leading’ role in terms of sport security and integrity requires a quantum leap in credibility. No offence to anyway involved.
Not that a perceived lack of independence is confined to the ICSS. If we look at WADA, they are 50% funded by the IOC and every second term, we know there will be a WADA President who is put there by the Olympic Movement to help look after their interests.
In fact, the more I’ve got into the murky world of international sport and sports governance (and thank you to the terrific bunch of staff at SKINS who can run things so well while I am consumed by this!), the more I realise that world sport needs an independent integrity organisation of its own.
It doesn’t matter what the sport is, it is characterised either by too many vested interests and conflicts of interests that intersect, or time-servers in comfortable positions who have done little-to-nothing in the best interests of their sport over too many years.
Football is a great example of that. The incumbent President, Sepp Blatter, swears black and blue he isn’t corrupt himself. That may be so, but he has been President for 17 years. Before that he was the General Secretary for 17 years; and before that he had worked as FIFA’s lone ‘development officer’ for six years, in charge of handing out the development grants. I ask you: how can someone be in one of the two top roles in an organisation for 34 years and not know what was going on, or what the culture of the organisation was? The fact that he says he didn’t and he can’t be blamed for anything just shows how much he doesn’t ‘get’ what governance is all about.
But Mr Blatter is not the only one. One of the candidates for the Presidency next year is former playing great, Michel Platini. He’s been on the FIFA Executive Committee for 13 years. When did he ever say anything about ‘transparency’ before a few months ago? As a former professional player, how can he justify voting for Qatar to host a World Cup in 40 degree plus temperatures?
Then we get the so-called independent head of FIFA’s latest reform committee, Francois Carrard. He’s Swiss. He’s a former Director-General of the IOC – surely one of the cosiest clubs in the world. And he told us recently that not only is football an “ethnic sport for girls” in the USA – which even FIFA disowned – and we’re all just too awful to his mate, Sepp.
And that’s just football. Don’t get me started on athletics, cricket, tennis or the Olympic movement.
So what I intend pursuing is the concept of an independent arbitrator for sport. Truly independent. Something that can look at all the ‘failure of governance’ issues that world sporting bodies need to address that include doping, match-fixing, human rights and people trafficking for a start.
The other issue I raised at the conference was in relation to human rights and the kafala system in Qatar.
I’m not an advocate of the popular view that the 2022 World Cup should be taken away from Qatar, in the absence of any evidence in relation to corruption. That aspect is being looked at, and if necessary dealt with, by the appropriate authorities.
However, I do think that we ‘ordinary people’ can continue to put pressure on the Qatari authorities to introduce real change to the kafala system, otherwise known as indentured slavery. Of course, if FIFA was a proper, functioning organisation, they would do it. But just as they’re in self-denial about the governance issues they face, FIFA is also in denial and is negligent when it comes to championing human rights in a country where they chose to hold their marquee event.
You only have to look at the 38-page Bid Evaluation Report prepared by Harold Mayne-Nichols to see zero mention of kafala to understand where FIFA’s priorities lie in assessing a nation’s suitability to host the World Cup. It really does seem that FIFA’s decision-making is based solely on how much money they can make – regardless of how they make it.
What world sport is doing is short-changing the people who pay to be members, pay to go to matches and pay to play at grassroots level. In that respect, they are also short-changing society.
Sport is incapable of policing themselves – and even if they were, they wouldn’t.
What I am proposing with the establishment of a world anti-corruption agency for sport will benefit the billions of decent players, coaches, match officials, administrators, volunteers and fans who just want to see their sport played on the proverbial level playing field, week-in, week-out.
The idea is to help protect sport and everything we love about it in the first place.
It’s a big idea. But it has to start somewhere, and I started the conversation today.
I’ll keep you posted on how we go over the coming months.