Ravi Nyayapati –
May 27, 2015 will be marked as a Dark Day in world sport.
It could also be marked as the Day of Hope.
For years, the integrity of Football had been subject to compromise by corrupt officials.
FIFA, the sport’s governing body, had been at the centre of controversies and allegations.
It had been accused of an extensive ‘patronage’ system where money earmarked for promoting the game in impoverished nations was used to secure votes and garner support, including awarding of hosting rights for the World Cup Games.
Much like the Olympics, the bidding process to these games is a lengthy and insanely expensive process with high-powered lobbying.
Australia, which lost its bid to Qatar for the 2022 games, has already shown early intent in demanding $50 million of tax payers’ funds it used in the bidding process.
This would seem fair given the process was corrupt.
FIFA’s corruption scandals have been an open secret, yet its infamous head, Sepp Blatter, consistently fronted up vehemently denying any wrongdoing. On May 27, all that changed when 14 of the 24 executives were arrested, sending shockwaves across the sporting fraternity.
What a crackdown!
A day later, Blatter expectedly won the presidential election, only to then resign a few days later. He is now said to be under investigation too, since as the President of a major Sports governing body like FIFA not only places him in a bureaucratic position of power but also vulnerable to scandals.
It comes with a great deal of influence, command and global engagement at top level topped with extravagant benefits.
The long-awaited crackdown finally came from a nation where Football, as the rest of the world knows it, means a totally different game.
The Americans refer to Football as Soccer and only 6% of them consider it as their favourite sport.
The FIFA Executive erred and brought illegal cash into America and in doing so violated US laws. The rest of the world should be grateful for America’s tough anti-corruption laws.
No one knows what will happen next. Russia needs the 2018 World Cup to boost morale, tourism and investment, and is set to spend $20 billion on public works projects and stadium preparations.
The good news for the Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is that it is probably too late to strip Russia of the World Cup. Qatar, which is spending a whopping $200 billion, may be in for a different story. Their stock market dropped 3 percentage points on news of Blatter’s resignation.
Corruption in sports administration is sadly widespread.
The Salt Lake City 2002 winter Olympics was established as tainted.
Much attention has been drawn of late to illegal betting in cricket involving top administrators of the game.
The Indian Olympic Committee also ran itself to the ground with Delhi’s hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth games.
We can draw strong parallelism to the way governing bodies operate in general, be it the Olympics or other sport like Cricket. To start with, the election process is usually bizarre. For example, N Srinivasan managed to become Chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC), after being disallowed by the Indian Supreme Court to be an executive of BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) for alleged conflict of interests.
People do not forget such things. It was no surprise to see the crowd of 100,000 boo Srinivasan during the presentation ceremony at the 2015 Cricket World Cup finals.
The fundamental problem is that these governing bodies operate like “Members Clubs” with no real sense of answerability. This is true of many international sports bodies that fall into a governance vacuum. They are subject to few regulations or supervision, ultimately leading to corruption, which is of enormous proportions ($150 million in the current FIFA case) given the commercial value associated with these events (FIFA generated nearly $6 billion revenue over the last four years).
An official report shows that sport is seen by Britons as the second most corrupt sector in the country. Sport is meant to unite people, cultures, race, and all other social boundaries but it is sad that such a powerful force is at threat from corrupt officials.
A lack of sovereign power overseeing these world bodies means its members essentially govern themselves. It is that lack of overall structure and accountability that has led to such a state of affairs.
An alternate approach could be to try the model adopted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in which the governing body is jointly overseen by governments as well as people from the sporting world, including athletes.
The link to governments mean accountability can be enforced.
Perhaps FIFA could be made into not for-profit business. Or is the answer in having more countries implement greater anti-corruption laws.
Whatever it is, the games must be saved. Ultimately, the spirit of any game must also be applicable to the people governing it.
Ravi Nyayapati is an avid sports enthusiast keen on cleanliness in all games on and off the field.