Last year in April, Transparency International (TI) launched its initiative focusing on corruption in sport, at the same time indicating that it would release a comprehensive report in February the next year. Today the organisation releases that report as part of its flagship Global Corruption Report series.

The global phenomenon of sport engages billions of people and generates annual revenues of more than US$145-billion – as such, it’s a fertile ground for corruption, and attempts to stop the problem are still at an early stage. However, TI believes it is possible.

The Global Corruption Report (GCR) on sport is the most comprehensive analysis of sports corruption to date, the organisation claims. It features more than 60 contributions from leading experts in the fields of corruption and sport, as well as case studies from a number of TI chapters.

The report provides an in-depth overview of the root causes of corruption across sport disciplines, and outlines evidence-based recommendations from leading experts in the field on what needs to be done to clean up the game.

Part one deals with an overview of the governance situation around the world, while part two looks at football and the effect of corruption on the sport. Part three examines the big business of hosting major events, and part four delves into match-fixing. Part five takes a closer look at corruption in US collegiate sport. Part six discusses the role of individuals.

Specific topics covered include political interference in Asian football, corruption trends in African sport, corruption risks in the football transfer market, labour rights in Qatar, the World Cup legacy and Olympics in Brazil, financing the Sochi Winter Olympics, following the World Cup money in Russia, political control of Hungarian football, governance of cricket in Bangladesh, ownership of football clubs in the UK, and more.

Read extracts from the report online.

Vulnerable to corruption

The effects of corruption extend beyond the touch line, said TI. Sport is a symbol of fair play around the world, and often provides a release, or even escape, from daily hardships for many, whether as a player or onlooker. If trust in sport is lost and people can no longer believe what they are seeing on the field of play or hearing from those in charge, then public trust in any institution may be irreparably undermined.

“Sport should be a force for good in the world but the latest scandals not only in football, but in athletics and tennis, have exposed just how vulnerable it is to corruption. This must stop now,” said TI MD Cobus de Swardt.

“We need to create a clean and healthy structure and new rules that guarantee complete transparency and democratic participation.”

Part of the problem, TI said, is that historically, sport is organised on the principle of autonomy, where international sports organisations (ISOs), no matter their scale, are afforded ‘non-profit’ or ‘nongovernmental organisation’ status in most jurisdictions. This allows them to operate opaquely, without any effective external oversight, and in many cases, escape accountability.

Too, the corporate structures of sport are largely archaic, said TI, and their administration is often overseen by ex-athletes with little prior management experience, operating through linear hierarchical organisational models. The problem here is that the operating structures have lagged behind the sector’s commercial growth, with executives opting to protect big bonuses and salaries and long terms of office, rather than adapt.

Certain countries in which major global sporting organisations are headquartered – such as Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates – provide many perks, such as generous tax breaks. This allows such organisations to operate under favourable, possibly even lax conditions.

South African sport is corrupt too

At this moment, football, tennis and track and field athletics are grappling with corruption crises. South Africa is far from exempt – one only has to think of the match-fixing scandal said to have taken place before the 2010 Fifa World Cup and which is now in Fifa’s hands.  In November 2014 a local football referee was jailed for four years for corruption.

The Athletics SA debacle at the beginning of the decade is a low point, as is the long-running corruption scandal in world cricket – some South African players including Nicky Boje, Herschelle Gibbs and the late Hansie Cronje were implicated in the early 2000s, resulting in a life ban for Cronje. A few years ago Cricket South Africa was in the firing line for alleged mismanagement and corruption, and this year another scandal has emerged, involving attempts to influence the outcome of games.

To top it all, there are current allegations that South African Rugby Union boss Jurie Roux, while he was at Stellenbosch University, manipulated the university’s finances to fund its rugby club.

Ways to solve the problem

The report makes a host of detailed, emphatic recommendations addressing all the issues it has raised. They include:

  • Anti-corruption measures coming primarily from within the global sporting community, starting with an acknowledgement of the problem.
  • Increased independent oversight in international sports governance.
  • Stringent and transparent criteria for eligibility, plus independent verification for all senior decision-making positions.
  • Increased financial transparency in all sports associations, the money they make and how it is disbursed, far beyond minimum legal requirements of host countries.
  • Specialised units should be created within ISOs to regularly monitor member associations and provide support in terms of governance and accountability.
  • Citizen engagement in bids for major sporting events and the need for formal safeguards to stop corruption and all human rights, labour, environmental and social sustainability abuses.
  • The need for sponsors to promote integrity and hold sports organisations to the same standards that they apply to their supply chain.
  • Any reform process to address systemic governance issues in sport should formally provide for inputs by relevant stakeholders, including athletes, supporters, governments, sponsors and human rights, labour and anti-corruption organisations. ISOs should commit themselves to honouring the recommendations of any reform process or providing formal responses for recommendations that are rejected.
  • States should ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Manipulation of Sport Competitions. It commits states to investigate and sanction all match-fixing, to have cross-border co-operation on cases and to ensure prevention, including the provision of comprehensive and continuous education on the issue.
  • Sport organisations should establish whistleblower systems that are independent, confidential and secure, and follow TI’s international whistleblower guidelines.
  • Further exploration of the need for a global anti-corruption sports agency.

TI has called for these recommendations to be embraced and implemented by all international sports organisations, particularly those facing corruption scandals. It will also use them as a checklist for Fifa reform in the first 100 days under its new president.

No faith in Fifa

The global corruption watchdog simultaneously launched its second edition of the Forza Football/Transparency International Fifa poll, focusing on what Fifa fans think of the upcoming election on 26 February, to replace Sepp Blatter as president. South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale is one of five candidates running for the prestigious post.

The results of that poll show that 69% of respondents have no faith in Fifa, but 50% of the fans polled said the sporting body still had a chance to restore its reputation. Some 25 000 fans took the poll on the Forza Football app in 28 countries, including South Africa – where 31% said they did have confidence in Fifa.

“Fifa should take this message to heart. Unless it acts more fans will turn away from football. The trust levels are low but the fans will give Fifa a chance if it acts now,” said the sport report’s editor Gareth Sweeney.

Tokyo Sexwale only received 3% of the overall votes in response to the question: “Who [of the five candidates] would you pick to run Fifa?” Most fans – 60% – did not favour any of the candidates, choosing ‘none of the above’. Even South Africans were not wildly excited about Sexwale’s nomination, with ‘none’ chosen by 43%, and Sexwale garnering just 28% of the vote.