Does sport need its own anti-corruption agency?
Next week, I am delighted to be attending the global anti-corruption summit convened by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron.
I first wrote about the need for an independent anti-corruption body for sport eight months ago. As I wrote at the time, the more I have learned about sporting organisations, the way they are run and who is at the top of them, the more I am convinced that this is necessary.
While sport can, and does, do a lot of good, its leadership is too often captured by people who have been in the role for a long time and/or who are largely free of the management and control that is expected in the government or commercial sectors. You only have to look at the recent examples of the IAAF, the UCI, FIFA, tennis, the Olympics and the ICC to know this is so.
As those of you who read these blogs regularly will know, I have very little confidence in the changes that are happening within international sporting organisations. What sport tends to be good at is ‘shutting down’ the commentary, becoming even more inward looking, and focusing on the bells-and-whistles of the sport itself. Major events such as the Euro’s or the Olympic Games can’t come fast enough when a sport is under fire. This is understandable from a crisis management perspective; but it doesn’t serve the sport, its fans or its participants well.
As part of the preparation for the summit next week, I was interested to read this report that Prime Minister Cameron intends proposing a global anti-corruption agency. This is in the wake of the many instances of bribery and corruption being faced – but not necessarily addressed – around the world, as instanced by revelations such as those in the Panama Papers.
Interesting to note is that international sporting bodies such as FIFA and UEFA will also sign a pledge to fight corruption in sport including bribery, betting and drugs. Such a pledge doesn’t necessarily fill one with confidence, based on football’s track record. After all, it was only a little over a year ago, that Jeffrey Webb said all the right things about corruption and was being touted as a future FIFA President. He has since pleaded guilty to US charges as part of the FIFA investigations, stating that he believed “such offers were common in this [football] business” and faces a lifetime ban from the sport.
While Prime Minister Cameron’s proposal for a global anti-corruption agency is an encouraging move, there are two aspects I look forward to learning more about. The first is that it is not proposed it has any power to investigate; the second is that it is all-encompassing.
In relation to the first issue, an international body that provides ‘information exchange’ only is not likely to be as effective as one that has the power to investigate and work with appropriate authorities to prosecute, where relevant. As an example, you only have to look at FIFA’s Garcia Report, undertaken by an experienced prosecutor but with no powers of compulsion to testify or capacity to interrogate people or bank accounts, compared with what has been accomplished by the agencies with real teeth – the US Department of Justice and the FBI. (The Swiss Government has not yet launched any prosecutions).
In relation to the second issue, sadly I feel that the incidence of foreign corrupt practices in commercial procurement may be worthy of an agency of its own. It’s certainly a hot topic issue in my home country of Australia.
I tend to think that sport is big enough, and important enough to society’s values, to warrant an agency of its own. My concern is that the many issues that a sport-specific anti-corruption agency could deal with – bribery, bidding for marquee events, match fixing, player transfers, doping, racism and more – and across all sport, may be lost in the broader agency.
However, the devil is always in the detail. I look forward to hearing what the many experts from around the world have to say next week and learning more about Prime Minister Cameron’s proposal.
I hope it will be more than just a talkfest and paying lipservice to the need to address this scourge on global citizenry, and that it results in genuine action for the benefit of all of us.