Interview: Sport leaders should be governed by ethics
By Steen Bille, journalist at DGI’s magazine UDSPIL
510 thousand US Dollars and three years of hard, single-handed struggle is the price Mario Goijman, former leader of the Argentine Volleyball Federation has paid to challenge his former colleagues in the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB)
In March 2006, he succeeded in bringing Ruben Acosta and Jean-Pierre Seppey, president and secretary general of FIVB to court in Lausanne, Switzerland. To Goijman’s great disappointment both men were acquitted of falsifying documents involving approximately 6 million US dollars.
In his determination to keep fighting, the 60-year-old Mario Goijman has been given the nickname Don Quixote after the Roman knight who made enemies out of windmills.
”Why do I keep going”? My farther taught me to live my life using ethical principles. That is why it hurts me when people fail to do their duty. We should create a better society through sports. Through sports you learn to deal with loss and victory in a way that teaches you to be a better person”, Goijman explains.
Mario Goijman has also accused Acosta and Seppey for what he calls undemocratic management. ”I can accept a man who has to steal an apple to survive but I cannot accept a world leader who pockets money without helping others. Acosta has held power for 28 years and acts as if he is above authority has no responsibility to justify his actions”, Goijman says about his opponent.
The trial marked the ending of 40 years involvement with sport. He started as organizational president in a federation in Buenos Aires and continued as president of the Argentine Volleyball Federation and also became a member of the board of FIVB.
Giving up is simply not part of Mario Goijman’s nature and despite long hours and considerable financial costs, he has no regrets.
”You have to get involved, you can’t just sit by and watch things unfold. I for one cannot”, he says emphasizing the word involved. His willpower, he explains, comes from belonging to a family of Jewish immigrants with a history that brought his grand parents from Argentine to Russia around 1900.
His adult children do not share his involvement in this case. They, like many of his friends, have asked him to drop the fight against giants and relax instead.
“My family sees how I suffer. I may always appear strong but the face changes when you come home and let down your guards. There are nights when I just can’t sleep and there are thoughts that you can not put into a spreadsheet. But my family is there to support me. I see it as weakness of character to settle with endless compromises and a laissez-faire attitude”, he confides.
Mario Goijman was rewarded in Copenhagen 2005 where he was presented with a prize from Play the Game for his courage, involvement and willpower in his fight to document undemocratic management in volleyball leadership. Since the beginning in his years as president of a local volleyball club, he has developed his philosophy of leadership based on the principle of rotation.
”When leaders stay in power for 20 years or more, they end up with a sense of ownership of the club or the organisation they belong to. Perhaps they perform wonderfully for 6-8 years but then they tend to develop the idea that – the state, that’s me”, he says and adds ”leaders always strive to maintain their posts, perhaps due to this loss of the bigger picture”.
He admits how exiting it feels to be a leader in the world of sport where part of the reward is creating the framework for activities. Mario Goijman resigned as President of the Argentine Federation of Volleyball but first after having taken the federation from 30 clubs to an impressive 200 clubs.
“A new leader will view both the work process and the recurring problems from a new angle thus providing new tools for improvement”, he argues.
A vision of sport leadership
During the last three years, colleagues from volleyball federations from many parts of the world have supported Mario Goijman through e-mails or telephone calls. However, always with discretion. None of them have expressed their support publicly.
Goijman’s critics accuse him of having become one with the cause indicating that he has lost part of his good judgement during the case.
But he dismisses this.
"I have had a vision of sport ever since I as a youngster took up volleyball in the club where my father was vice-president and where I later took the presidency. The vision started to develop seriously one day in 1968 when my coach asked me to represent the club at the annual meetings in the Buenos Aires Federation. I accepted even though I was only 22 years old”, he recollects.
A couple of years later, he was elected to the board and later at age 27, he became the youngest president the federation had ever seen.
”Back then like now, I see sport as a tool for education and development of young individuals”; he says and pushes the two massive files of documents aside. This view of sport is something passed onto him by his farther whom Mario Goijman still calls his teacher.
Despite the fact that Mario Goijman advises leaders in sport to leave their posts after a certain number of years, he stresses that clubs can still benefit from their experience.
”Let them be a part of a council of consultants meeting a few times each year to improve the work process”, Goijman suggests.
Goijman has said goodbye to the role of sports leader, however that does not include not having an opinion.
”If the world of sport aspires to have a good image, it is necessary to reinstate ethical principles. I would like to contribute to this by writing a book about the importance of ethics in sport, illustrating on the same note the methods the bad guys use”, he declares.
The Argentinean claims to have focused on ethics himself throughout his 40 year long career in volleyball, a career that has been local, national and global.
”On the one hand, I feel immense satisfaction because of my work in the Acosta-case; especially at moments like when I received the Play the Game award. On the other hand, I feel very much alone”, he reasons on his three year battle against two key people in international elite sport leadership.
When Mario Goijman heard that the judge acquitted Ruben Acosta as well as Jean-Pierre Seppey, he became deeply frustrated and resigned. Next minute, he found his strength and refused to accept the outcome of the trial. His motto is and has always been: “I do not believe in involvement in sport without ethics”