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Transparency International calls on FIFA to keep the beautiful game clean

Italian scandal shows corruption is as great a threat as doping, but far more costly

In light of the exploding commercial influence of sport, its global reach and its role-model function, Transparency International (TI) calls for greater transparency and effective anti-corruption enforcement in sport, specifically in football.

Sport mobilises great sums of money and heated emotions. And international sport institutions enjoy a growing amount of power, power that ultimately derives from the community-level support of sport clubs.

Corruption in sport is an abuse of this power. On a country-level, the growing cloud over one of Italy’s top sport clubs, Juventus Turin, illustrates that corruption in sport is a real, contemporary problem. Aside from perverting a team or club’s role-model function and disappointing fans, sport corruption often has links to organised crime, money laundering and big-ticket corruption, such as large bribes paid for sport facility construction contracts.

“Corruption is as serious a threat to sport as doping, but it has the potential to inflict much greater damage on the sport world and the communities - representing billions of people globally - that support it,” said David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of TI.

Ahead of this year’s World Cup in Germany, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) announced the formation of a new Ethics Commission, independent of FIFA’s Executive Committee. Meanwhile, a commercial firm, Early Warning System, has taken up its assignment of detecting irregularities in game scoring. These are laudable efforts, but the phenomenon of corruption in sport runs deeper than match-fixing. There is a need to address the conflicts of interest that are part and parcel of a familial network of athletic officials that spans the globe. What is missing is more transparency, rigorous enforcement and follow-through, including the systematic exclusion of tainted officials.

A web of patronage and personal connections holds back the true professionalisation of global sport bodies such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the FIFA. In a European context, the 2006 Independent European Football Review acknowledged the central importance of the issue.

“Sport is based on strong ethical ideals: peace, friendship, solidarity and fair play. Its representatives are role models,” said Anne Schwöbel, Managing Director of TI Switzerland. “There is an urgent need for decision-makers to take responsibility on this issue and to enforce zero tolerance on corruption.”

With 207 national football associations, FIFA has more members than the United Nations. Corporate sponsorship, merchandising, management and betting have become a breeding ground for corruption as the sums involved have grown exponentially.

If sport was largely an informal affair a century ago, it has developed into a full-fledged industry today. Total costs, including infrastructure, of the 2006 World Cup in Germany are estimated at upwards of € 6 billion. With such increasingly huge sums in play, the seduction of and vulnerability to corrupt behaviour has grown. The sport world has responded slowly and, to date, inadequately. Existing ethical guidelines in sport do not effectively prevent corruption and, when infractions are actually detected, enforcement falls short.

Transparency International has produced a special web page and edition of its newsletter that bring together news, analysis and tools concerning the fight against corruption in sport.

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Transparency International is the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption.


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