Never Let Corruption Kill The Beautiful Game

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Corruption in sport is as old as sport itself. From the FIFA-Blatter scandal in Russia-doping, corruption in sport has many forms, faces, and dimension. It might take in the form of match-fixing by players, referees, and criminals. Or blood and urine lab officials demanding monster pay from athletes to influence results, club owners and administrators insisting on kickbacks for players’ transfers, government officials rigging bids for construction contracts. Money laundering in the form of purchase of clubs, players and image rights or sponsorship and advertising arrangements cannot be overlooked as we discuss corruption in sport. One might be tempted to ask why corruption is so rampant in the sport.

The sports industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar business with enormous political and private ties and interests. This creates room for opportunities and, sadly, corruption as well. It does not help that sport is wrapped in the beautiful package of secrecy, and many important decisions and deals are hardly transparent. Often, they are made amongst some powerful elements in the sports industry behind the closed door. The result: impunity and blatant negligence of due process, which often lead to difficult, if not inability, to bring the culprits to book.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, the second longest serving President of the International Olympic Commission (OIC), ruled the organisation for 20 years, more or less, like a family business. He was credited with bringing momentum to the organisation such as support for the organisation of the Paralympic Games, the Winter Games in Sarajevo in 1984 after the devastating war. Samaranch also intensified effort towards fighting doping in sport by launching a vast research and control programmes and creating the World Anti-Doping Agency in 1999, which gave the IOC Medical Commission humongous power over doping. During  Juan Antonio Samaranch’s presidency, South Africa was re-admitted into the OIC, following the collapse of apartheid. However, despite these achievements, the OIC was marred by negative allegations. In spite of all the corruption allegations and alleged illicit dealings against the organisation under his watch, Samaranch left the organisation a multi-millionaire and avoided prosecution until he died on 21 April 2010 at the age of 89. The story is not different with Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, the Swiss-born former president of  FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), who is presently serving a six-year ban from participating in FIFA activities for corruption. He was accused of enriching himself and encouraging a lot of corruption and financial mismanagements in the organisation. Although Mr. Blatter must be credited for drastic expansion in revenues generated by the FIFA World Cup organization; however, bidding processes for the awarding of FIFA tournaments under him have been synonymous with alleged bribery and corruption. The collapse of FIFA’s marketing partner ISL and the loss of $100m of the company under Blatter’s management amongst other corruption allegations are those negative stigmas that many sports lovers associate Blatter with. Michel Platini the former the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) president, who is serving a four-year ban from involvement in football is not immune to corruption. Convicted of corruption, the French man recently caused an eyebrow when he confessed that “a little trickery” was used in the 1998 World Cup draw. According to him, the trick was used to increase the chances of his country France and Brazil meeting in the final because it was “the dream of everyone” he confessed.

“There was a little trickery. We did not spend six years organising the World Cup to not do some little shenanigans. Do you think other World Cup hosts did not?” Platini said.

Corruption in sports is not limited to the sports body. Cheating amongst countries to enhance the performance and medal chances of their sportsmen and women is not new to the sport. Russia has been accused of a State-sponsored, systematic doping, an allegation which has led to the control and ban of many of her athletes. On an individual level, many sportsmen and women have been caught in the web of corruption, doping and systematic bribery of sports officials. From Marion Jones former American track and field athlete with 3 gold medals and 2 bronze medals to her credit to Dwain Chambers, Justin Gatlin, Lance Armstrong, the case is endless. Recently, Kenyan-born Asbel Kiprop, a three-times world, and Olympic 1500m gold medallist, allegedly tested positive for the banned blood-boosting drug EPO. Interesting, it is believed that the athlete was informed in advance that he would be tested for the EPO – something contrary to the rules of the  IAAF.  Although Mr. Kiprop claimed there was an error with his sample and vowed to fight the result and clear his name, he admitted, however, to have given some money to officer testing his urine sample. Asked why he gave him the money, Mr. Kiprop insisted the money was normal “generosity”  because he thought the officer “wanted small money, maybe for tea… or to fuel the car.”

Mr. Asbel Kiprop one of the best world 1500m specialists in decades has vowed to fight and prove his innocence.

Regardless the outcome of Kiprop’s attempt to clear his name, to dismiss individual doping cases in the sport as a mere coincidence, is to underestimate the impact of doping in sport and how the corruption in sport is systematically killing it.

In an interview in 2013 with the German broadcaster ARD, Mathew Kisorio, a well-known Kenyan athlete confessed that many people use illegal drugs in sport:

“ I wasn’t the only one – and none of the others got caught for doping. I know a lot of medical substances are used, which are injected straight to the blood for the body to have more oxygen. And when you run, you run so smooth. You have more stamina.”

In as much as we blame sportsmen and women for cheating in sport, many have rather pointed an accusing finger on the sports administrators for encouraging and perpetuating corruption and culture of dishonesty in the sports industry. Some have argued that when leaders are corrupt, they hardly can lead with examples or inculcate discipline amongst those they lead. Perhaps, that makes cheating amongst sportsmen and women an inherent cultural behaviour.

Unless our sports administrators and agencies lead by examples our sport will continue to experience terminal sickness, which if not quickly controlled will lead to the death of the sport.