I don’t know about you but I’m fairly certain UK Athletics Chairman, Ed Warner, wouldn’t have made-up what he, as a minimum, thought he heard about Qatar paying bribes to land the 2017 IAAF world championships. Having said that, I am not saying that Seb Coe is not telling the truth; or, indeed, the other four witnesses the IAAF’s ethics board spoke with about the issue.
But this case does highlight two issues that are worth canvassing.
First, having read a lot, and talked to a lot of people about how decisions are made about major sporting events – and, in particular, FIFA’s decision of almost six years ago to give their World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 – there is one thing I think we can be certain of. ‘Brown envelopes’ or brown paper bags are a euphemism only in today’s world.
The chances are there may well have been a conversation, offhand or otherwise, about ‘brown paper bag money’ but if Qatar was offering to pay individual IAAF voters to vote for them they wouldn’t have used brown paper bags. It’s much more sophisticated than that.
One of my #NewFIFANow co-founders, Bonita Mersiades, made the point in this presentation in 2011 to the Governance Institute of Australia about the use of ‘official’ commercial or government-to-government transactions between nations in a bidding context. She notes that two big and successful Qatari companies, Qatar Airways and Al-Jazeera, made significant investments in countries whose FIFA Executive Committee members’ votes they were chasing at the time. Likewise, Russia kindly offered to share its anti-ballistic missile technology with at least one nation whose vote they wanted (not something anyone does every day), and also made significant financial investments in others.
Ed Warner says English athletics was also told on the eve of the vote for the 2017 world championships that they needed to match a Qatar offer to pay £7.2 million to cover prize money. They chose to do so. Was that just part of the argy-bargy of last-minute lobbying, or was it something more sinister and less appropriate?
To use another example, if the son or daughter of a voter is given a lucrative job by a major entity linked to a bidder, is that using a network to best effect to assist your offspring, or is it an inducement?
We know these things happen. None of them involve brown paper bags.
The fact that the implicit dilemmas have not been addressed by any sport leads to my second point. Not only is ‘Big Sport’ not capable of setting its own rules, it is totally unfit to investigate itself.
The IAAF ethics board said they could not move to investigate the claims properly as there was no documentary evidence to support Ed Warner’s claim. Regardless of whether you believe Warner or Coe, or think the truth may be somewhere in between, who trusts them to get it right?
Organisations such as the IAAF, the IOC and FIFA can spin as hard as they like that their ethics commissions are ‘independent’ but the fact is, they are not. They may say they have a free-hand in investigating and adjudicating but they do not.
How else can you explain that the IAAF ethics board chooses to give more weight to the recollection of one man, Coe – who happens to be the President – over the recollection of another, Warner? How else can you explain that the IAAF ethics board didn’t notice what was happening under their noses for years with Coe’s predecessor, Lamine Diack, and his son?
And, of course, there’s no ethics process quite like that of FIFA’s. It has an encyclopaedia of ‘misses’, both past and present. For example, how else can you explain that the FIFA ethics committee turns a blind eye to President Gianni Infantino’s regular use of private aircraft owned by individuals and/or entities involved in football? It is not only a conflict of interest, but it contravenes a FIFA statute about accepting significant private gifts.
For me, this non-decision of the IAAF ethics board is yet another example of why we need a truly independent global sport anti-corruption body.
Part of their role would be firstly to set parameters and guidelines for what is appropriate and acceptable and what is not, as well conduct truly independent investigations, without fear or favour, that have the capacity to work with appropriate authorities so that athletes, sponsors and the sport-loving community can be confident in the way their sport is run.