Transparency International (TI) has published a report into corruption in sport. Although the main motivation for the report was the indictments in relation to current and former FIFA officials, there have been numerous reports of corruption in professional sport in recent times, including match fixing at the highest levels of tennis, the Formula 1 bribery allegations, convictions of test cricketers, the deflategate matter and perceptions of corruption at the Winter Olympics.
TI suggests there are three broad reasons for corruption in sport:
Firstly, sport tends to be organised on the principle of autonomy. Sports organisations, whether international organisations, regional confederations or national associations, are generally afforded non-profit or non-governmental organisation status in most jurisdictions. This allows them to operate without any effective external oversight, and that reforms are initiated and approved by the same individuals who will be most directly affected by them.
Secondly, the corporate structures of sport are often dominated by ex-athletes with little previous experience in management or governance. TI suggests that while this structure may have worked in the past, many authorities have simply not kept pace with the huge commercial growth of the sector, and have chosen not to adapt in order to protect certain self-interests, including high salaries, bonuses and virtually limitless tenures.
Finally, the countries that host these organisations, such as Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, traditionally afford favourable legal status and generous tax breaks in order to attract and keep authorities. Changes to tighten legal accountability are under way but these are usually tempered with caution since authorities can simply relocate if the screws are tightened.
Perhaps one obvious omission from the TI report is the loyalty so many sporting teams attract that their owners and authorities take for granted. Whereas a financial or corruption scandal could easily lead to a mass exodus of customers, most supporters of Premier League teams would far rather give up the game than follow another team.
What solutions does TI advocate?
TI believes that tackling the roots of corruption must come primarily from within the sports community, starting with an acknowledgment of the problem. There must be a sincere and verifiable commitment to realise sport’s principles on inclusiveness and fair play, and to comply with the highest standards in terms of transparency, democracy and accountability.
At the same time, internal reform must be open to external perspectives, including inputs from athletes and supporters, governments, sponsors and civil society. The sports family needs to welcome those with know-how in anti-corruption activities, good governance, human rights, labour rights and development outside the world of sport as allies in the greater interest of sport. The report therefore places particular focus on participation as a fundamental element of good governance in sport, and dedicates a full chapter to the voices of key participants and their respective roles.
The report provides further advice in respect of governance, transparency and participation, and additional specific guidance relating to the bidding for major events and match fixing.
The ideal scenario is those in positions of influence to speak out at the right time. This includes both the relevant official declining and reporting an attempted bribe, and the relevant authority taking the appropriate action: disqualifying that entity from the bidding process. Similarly, those honest participants to report those who fail to demonstrate the same level of integrity.
The approach suggested by TI for sport mirrors the recent approach taken by law enforcement towards corporate wrongdoing, encouraging self reporting, robust anti bribery and anti-money laundering compliance measures and whistle blowing. Sporting authorities and their members can of course be subject to the criminal law.
For more information on corporate criminal liability, see Practice note, Corporate criminal liability in the UK.
For more information on the Bribery Act, see Practice note, Bribery Act 2010.
For more information on money laundering, see Practice note, Money laundering offences in the UK: overview.