Sports governance in the spotlight

The corruption crisis at FIFA, world football’s governing body, over the awarding of the World Cups to Russia and Qatar and the new reforms on the table this week at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have put sports governance high on both the political and popular agenda as 2014 draws to a close.

Sport is both big business (global annual revenues of more than US$145 billion) and a metaphor for teaching and encouraging integrity: two key reasons why Transparency International, an anti-corruption movement, is working in the area.

Beginning in February, Transparency International will publish a series of articles under the rubric Corruption and Sport, highlighting the latest research from the world’s top authorities in our efforts to explain what has gone wrong in sport, why it matters and what needs to be done to fix it.

This week the IOC is beginning the process of implementing 40 reform recommendations that cover everything from the bidding process for Olympic Games, clean sports and gender equality to environmental sustainability, youth sports and governance. (Transparency International was part of the IOC working group on governance at sports organisations.)

These reforms look encouraging, not least because they acknowledge and emphasise good governance and the role that civil society can play. Transparency International Germany has joined forces with five leading non-governmental  organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and two football supporters groups, to support IOC recommendations 20 and 39 on how mega-sporting events are handled and suggest how they should be implemented.

This engagement with civil society at the highest level is an important step because it adds a level of accountability that is too often missing in the closed-off world of sports, a world that too often cites the importance of autonomy as a way to deflect criticism. But as Lord Moynihan, former chair of the British Olympic Committee, said in the House of Lords recently:  the autonomy of sport is important but it must be earned.

Following pressure from outside (Transparency International included), FIFA announced a reform process in 2011 but then cherry-picked the recommendations from its Independent Governance Committee (IGC). It rejected key cornerstones for good governance: term limits for senior executives, publication of salaries and independent non-executive directors. Even the IGC ended up criticising FIFA.

Recently, Michael Garcia, the head of the investigatory chamber of FIFA’s Ethics Committee, spent two years investigating the World Cup bidding scandal only to disown the summary report FIFA released demanding his work be published in full, a demand Transparency International also made.

The summary report also treated shoddily those who gave evidence, most notably two whistleblowers from the Australian and Qatari bid teams who were described and discredited despite promises of anonymity. FIFA has not even apologised.

At Transparency International we continuously say that the tone at the top guides the spirit of any organisation. Sepp Blatter has now been president for 16 years and is seeking a fifth four-year term. Under his leadership more than eight of FIFA’s executive committee (past and present) have been reprimanded, investigated, fined or banned because of corruption.

Sport should be clean, fun, exciting and inspirational. But this can only happen if the organisations that run sport are trusted and self-aware. The IOC’s moves this week are a step in the right direction.

Carousel image: Copyright, Flickr / Mike

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