Does sport deserve ‘autonomy’?

18 May 2016 Comments 1

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 12:  International Olympic Committee (IOC) Director for Ethics, Paquerette Girard Zappelli, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, SKINS sportswear Chairman, Jaimie Fuller, Sierra Leone Football Association President, Isha Johansen, and International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven attend  a panel discussion at the international anti-corruption summit on May 12, 2016 in London, England. Leaders from many of the worlds nations are gathering in London for the summit, which is aimed at stepping up action to tackle the problem of corruption.  (Photo by Adrian Dennis - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

It was terrific to be part of Prime Minister Cameron’s anti-corruption summit and have the opportunity to join the esteemed panel to talk about the scope and opportunity to address corruption issues in sport. My thanks to the British Prime Minister for inviting me.

While I was participating in the discussion last week, I couldn’t help but think that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has let us down.

The IOC is a self-proclaimed leader in sport but when you look at its record, that proclamation has to seriously be in doubt.

It was only three years ago that Russia introduced its anti-gay bill just prior to its hosting of the Sochi Winter Olympics. There was an outcry in the ‘west’ over the legislation but it had little to no impact on Russia and its stance. American telecommunications company AT&T had the intestinal fortitude to do something , but they did so as a US Olympic sponsor. The IOC’s major sponsors – Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and VISA – issued anti-discrimination statements, but made no mention of Russia’s anti-gay laws.

What could, and should, Thomas Bach and IOC have done? Shown some leadership. Not by way of boycotting the Games, or taking them away, but by calling the Olympic sponsors together and getting them to condemn Russia. By making it clear that Principle 4 of the Olympic Charter actually means something to the IOC and its major sponsors, just as Google did at the time.


Another example is the IOC President’s late recognition of the need for FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, to stand down. My colleagues and I at #NewFIFANow had been saying it for some time – well before the May 2015 arrests. Outstanding investigative journalists such as Andrew Jennings and Jens Weinrich had been cataloguing Blatter’s and FIFA’s unacceptable behaviour for years. But it took Thomas Bach until October last year (and after calls from the FIFA sponsors!) to finally say “enough is enough” at FIFA.

That’s leadership?! (Of course, let’s not forget both Bach and Blatter worked at Adidas under the tutelage of Horst Dassler prior to being elevated to their roles with the IOC and FIFA respectively).

More recently, of course, there’s the distressing issue around the IAAF, WADA and anti-doping – whether it be Russia, Kenya or elsewhere. The IAAF is practically lame; WADA is partly under the control of the IOC anyway ; once again, there’s an opportunity for the IOC to show some leadership and make a stand on behalf of sport.

They don’t. The IOC fails us. Sport is failing us.

Yet, at the same, the IOC and other sporting bodies rely on their precious ‘autonomy’. Frankly, that’s not only an outdated concept that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century thanks to Pierre de Coubertin, but the international sporting organisations prove time and time again that it’s a totally undeserved privilege.

For the past 30-40 years of top-level sports administration have shown us they don’t deserve it. Whether it be the IOC, FIFA, the IAAF, UCI, WADA, the ICC and many other less prominent international sporting federations, there is too much leadership and control in the hands of a relatively small group of individuals, who enjoy cosy, insular inter-relationships and whose primary purpose is self-promotion and self-preservation.

The likes of Thomas Bach and the IOC, and people such as Vitaly Mutko, Russian Sports Minister and FIFA Council member, like to pretend that sport and politics don’t mix. I say bollocks. It’s 107 years since de Coubertin claimed autonomy for sport. The world has moved on. It’s about time sport administration did also, as well as the instruments of governments around the world that enable such autonomy.

People demand better than the IOC and sport are giving us. You want autonomy? You have to earn the right!


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