Switzerland’s changing role in the future of sport

Flickr Allan Watt IOC museum 16623059818_f22fb97385_620z

The Olympic Museum, Lausanne in the canton of Vaud, Switzerland


When the Swiss authorities arrested seven FIFA officials on 27 May 2015 in Zurich to face extradition on charges of racketeering and fraud, people were surprised not only that it was happening but where it was happening. But that was not all – almost immediately Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber disclosed that their own investigations were underway and FIFA’s headquarters were raided on ‘suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 Football World Cups.

Suddenly FIFA’s landlord had had enough.

This blog post is part of a series
drawing on articles from the
Global Corruption Report: Sport.

These are uncharted waters for Switzerland, which since welcoming the International Olympic Association in 1915 has built a reputation as a comfortable home for international sports organisations (ISOs). Today there are up to fifty ISO offices in the Canton of Vaud alone.

Traditionally Switzerland has extended the same type of leniency and secrecy to ISOs that characterised its banking sector. It considered ISOs promoters of culture and peace and gave them the legal status of international NGOs. This brought them generous tax exemptions or deductions and the security of national and cantonal neutrality. In return, even accounting for tax deductions, Switzerland receives a ‘total impact at an average of CHF 1.07 billion (€900 million) each year to the Swiss economy’ from hosting ISOs.

Until 2000, Switzerland also enabled a culture of corruption. Bribery was not only legal but a normal, tax-deductible way of doing business. International pressure changed this, but there is still no criminal offense for private bribery, only bribery of public officials, or where it can be proven that a third party suffered an economic disadvantage because of bribery. In other words, an equivalent case to that being pursued in the US against FIFA would not have been possible.

However, the public and political mood has started to change. On 12 December 2014 the Swiss Parliament extended the definition of a politically exposed person (PEP) to include senior politicians and officials of international sports organisations, where cash transactions may not exceed CHF 100,000 (US$102,252) and serious tax offences are considered as a predicate offence to money-laundering.

On 5 September the Swiss Senate approved the latest draft of ‘Lex FIFA’, which will make it a criminal offence for anyone, public or private, to give or accept bribes. Unfortunately, this is a weakened draft from the one that was rejected by the Senate in June 2015. Now so-called ‘mild cases’ (undefined) still require a complaint within an organisation to be investigated.

Nonetheless, 25 September will mark an important day in Switzerland’s new approach to making sports organisations accountable when it votes on the new law.

As part of the Corruption in Sports Initiative, leading Swiss sports lawyers Dr Lucien W. Valloni and Eric P. Neuenschwander provide an expert, in-depth analysis here on the role of Switzerland as host to international sporting bodies, the latest legal developments and their wider implications.

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Gareth Sweeney

About Gareth Sweeney

Gareth Sweeney is Global Advocacy Manager at Transparency International, Chief Editor of the Global Corruption Report and co-lead of the Corruption in Sport Initiative.

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3 Responses to Switzerland’s changing role in the future of sport

  1. Dariusz 18 December 2015 at 9:57 pm #

    Zgadzam sie z przedmowca.
    Zainspirowal mnie on do interesujacego wpisu, ktory zobaczycie
    niebawem na wyciskarka do soku.


  1. Switzerland’s changing role in the future of sport | space for transparency | Anti Corruption Digest - 30 October 2015

    […] Source: blog.transparency.org […]

  2. Boiling frogs…and why the administration of international sport is not going to get any better. Leigh Robinson | Thoughts in Sport - 3 December 2015

    […] Sport is self-regulating. Other industries will find this extraordinary, but there are few legal obligations imposed on sport. Violence on the field is punished by the referee and/or by a discipline committee – even instances of what would be a criminal offence in any other environment. Impropriety within sport administration has been ignored, dealt with quietly, or come under the scrutiny of ethics commissions, which are predominantly made up of those also in international sport administration. The charges have been bought against FIFA officials by U.S. Federal prosecutors have come about because of years of work, despite significant evidence of wrongdoing that was ignored by those within the sport. If this hadn’t happened, those of us outside of these organisations would have been unaware of the extent of the corruption. Even now, despite all of the evidence against him, Platini could stand for election as President of FIFA if the Court of Arbitration for Sport accepts his appeal against his 90 day ban from football, something that will seem incomprehensible to those in other professions. […]