Good Governance: Just another buzz phrase?

Photo: Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game


By Marcus Hoy
Sports administrators’ choice of words doesn’t imply they are taking effective action against crime and corruption. Good governance was a hot topic in Monday’s opening session at Play the Game 2019.

Good governance, former World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) President and current member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Richard W. Pound told Play the Game 2019, is the latest “comforting, but suitably vague” term used by sport’s ruling bodies to persuade us that they are undergoing reform. Just as they claim to champion “transparency” and “diversity,” he said, sports administrators “merely require sufficient memory to use the right term.”

Having the right rules in place, Pound said, doesn’t mean that good governance is occurring. “You need to know how they are being applied,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a box checking exercise. Good governance should imply that rigorous due diligence is taking place. It should apply to all activities including how decisions are reached, the consequences of noncompliance, the appeal processes and the imposition of sanctions. The difference between good and poor governance is not usually related to the rules themselves, but how those rules are applied”

Good governance, Pound said, should imply that participants “from outside the sports bubble” are allowed to become part of the reform process, including being given a sizable presence on ethics committees. The transfer of revenues, he said, should be linked to full compliance with good governance guidelines. “Olympic federations that don’t demonstrate good governance don’t deserve a share of the revenues,” he said. “Autonomy is not an entitlement. It must be earned and deserved.”

Autonomy must be earned
Investigative journalist Jens Weinreich believes that sport needs an anti-corruption agency similar to the anti-doping organisation WADA. Sports administrators, who champion good governance, “only act when under pressure. When the pressure gets lower, their arrogance grows. The IOC Ethics Commission is nothing more than a joke,” Weinreich said. “It’s all about crisis management, PR and propaganda. It’s still a family culture”

Sports entities, he said, cannot be above the law. Governments need to ensure proper and harmonised criminalisation of all forms of corruption in sport. Use of special investigative measures such as wire taps should be encouraged, and governing bodies should sign up to the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention. “We banned Russia for doping” he said. “Why can’t we impose similar bans for crime and corruption?”

Despite recent reforms, sports organisations still suffer from a clear lack of democracy, Norwegian MP and WADA Vice President Linda Helleland told Play the Game 2019.

“We take democracy for granted, but it’s a shock to witness the lack of democracy in sports governance,” she said. “Decision makers operate in a bubble. They don’t care about democratic norms. People need to change their attitudes. Decisions are still taken that only benefit the powerful few at the top.”

Conflicts of interest
“There is a conflict of interest when these organisations tackle issues like doping,” Helleland said. “Sports organisations must fulfil their obligations to deliver a product, preferably without scandal. If TV broadcasters and sponsors have an inherent interest in clean sport, they also have an obligation to invest in clean sport”

New York-based attorney Evan Norris was formerly the Assistant U.S. Attorney steering the global action against corrupt FIFA officials. Now he represents major companies, who are concerned about corruption within their ranks.

“Everyone has the same ideas of right and wrong, but a widespread belief still exists that sport is different,” he said. “Historically, sport operated outside the traditional business world. The fact that it has been unregulated for so long has allowed the idea to take hold that different rules apply. But enforcement is now here. There is information sharing between prosecutors in different countries, whistleblowers, financial checks, there are so many pathways to enforcement. Investigators are not going to dwell on the idea that sport is different to business. They are going to prosecute”.

Norris, who steered the 2015 raid on a Swiss hotel, which resulted in the arrest of seven FIFA officials, was accused by one attendee of “switching sides” in the fight against corruption. Norris countered that advising companies, who suspect that wrongdoing exists in their ranks, aids anti-corruption efforts

Sarah Lewis, Secretary General of the International Ski Federation, agreed that independent participants have a major part to play in the reform process. The new International Partnership Against Corruption in Sport (IPACS), she said, is helping facilitate direct contact and information exchange between law enforcement officials and international sports federations. Jesper Møller Christensen, President of the Danish Football Association, said that the six Nordic football associations had sought the advice of Amnesty International and Transparency International before travelling to Qatar, where they had held dialogue with World Cup organisers on human rights and workers welfare. “We are patient, but we try to make people listen to us” he said.

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In more than 40 sessions, over 170 speakers will present their thoughts and oponions on a wide range of the most topical questions in world sport during the 11th Play the Game conference, taking place in Colorado Springs, USA, 13-16 October 2019.

Read more about Play the Game 2019

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