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As the never-ending cycle of crises at FIFA shows, unless good governance and well-resourced, independent investigatory units are embedded at the heart of international sporting organisations, they will continue to let down the games, and the fans, they purport to serve.
Ahead of tomorrow evening’s panel event in Parliament on the future of world football, there is little doubt that confidence in its governing body, FIFA, has fallen to an all-time low.
Decades of systemic corruption, spanning every continent and ranging from envelopes of cash to rig the hosting of the World Cup, to the misappropriation of Haiti disaster relief funds, have revealed the deep disregard that the ‘footballing family’ has for governments, fans and international law.
The current scandalous state of affairs did not come to light because FIFA pursued one of the countless leads that it had that it was an organisation riddled with corruption. It took the intervention of the FBI, the Swiss authorities and a couple of tenacious British investigative journalists to finally crack the edifice of credibility that those of us who have followed FIFA closely long knew hid the ugly truth about the beautiful game.
As Blatter’s house of cards has collapsed the world has seen evidence time and again of how FIFA abused its position as the guardian of its most popular game, and of why it is not up to the task of overseeing the structural reforms that are so desperately required. The campaign group New FIFA Now has consistently argued that reform should be independent and not left to footballing insiders. Not only have they consistently shown that their default mode is to protect their own interests, they have completely failed to invest the resources necessary to tackle corruption, embed good governance, and protect their sport’s integrity.
Football is not alone in the challenges it faces. The recent scandals at FIFA and the IAAF both share the common theme of weak governance and, along with match-fixing in Tennis, reveal the danger of under-resourcing the bodies tasked with uncovering corruption and malpractice. It is imperative that we start treating international sports crime as one of the major global challenges for tackling corruption and resource the fight against it accordingly.
Cleaning up international sport will require a totally different approach, meaning more investment, partnership between sports and co-operation with international law enforcement agencies. At the heart of this should be a new Sports Crime Unit, employing specialists with deep understanding and experience of how organised crime seeks to exploit sport.
FIFA in its current form will not rid itself of corruption, and will not be responsible for uncovering the future instances of it that are all but inevitable under its current leadership and structures. If we are not to be left sitting on the side-lines, we must be proactive and establish a body with the depth of resources to investigate corruption effectively and hold these sporting bodies to account.
Sports governance has become a wild west. It requires more than just a lone ranger to combat it.