World Sports: The untouchables and double standards

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The rate of corruption in sports has become a matter of concern to the general public, especially the fans. Of late, graft allegations, embezzlements and other corrupt practices have rocked the International Federation of Association Football, better known in French as the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The FIFA, the highest governing body of football controls football, beach soccer, efootball and futsal. Sadly, this sports body is not the lone swimmer in the ocean of corruption; the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) currently known as the World Athletics is equally infected by the cankerworm. Besides, several regional football bodies like the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), and the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) have been engulfed in various corrupt scandals. All these scandalous and acrimonious situations have not only dented the integrity of world sports; they have also raised serious questions about transparency, fairness, honesty in the sports.

If the scandals did not cause concerns about the integrity of sports, the fact that often, those in the highest hierarchy of the governing sports bodies are, in fact, behind the grafts, are worrisome developments. Worse still, more often than not, the culprits or malefactors are those charged with the responsibility of bringing sanity to the sports. But that is hardly the worst shocker. The fact is that those convicted corrupt sports administrators are not only handed mild penalties, but their punishments also seem to be discriminatorily applied.

Those ironies and double standard practices have left many sports lovers

wondering if the games are meant for two groups – the powerful versus less powerful, touchable versus untouchable. In other words, have various sports bodies created double standards in their fighting of corruption within the sports? Many would say they sadly have.   

The football governing bodies are not new to corruption. Many prominent football administrators have been charged and convicted of corruption. The former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and ex-UEFA boss Michel Platini have been unceremoniously sacked from their powerful positions due to corrupt practices. Others are Jeffrey Webb the former FIFA vice president cum former president of CONCACAFCayman

Islands Football Association (CIFA) and Jack Warner, Vice President of FIFA and President of CONCACAF until his suspension in 2011, etc. They faced corruption charges ranging from money laundering conspiracy, wired fraud, and money laundering.

During the tenure of Sepp Blatter, FIFA was marred by numerous bribery allegations: millions of dollars exchanging hands in the selection processes for 2010, 2018, and 2022 World Cups, jersey sponsorship

deals, compromised FIFA presidential elections etc. For example, FIFA body’s officials led by Jack Warner, ex-vice president allegedly received $10 million from the South African Football Association (SAFA) chairperson Danny Jordaan, in return for votes that awarded South Africa the right to host the 2010 World Cup.

Although South Africa denied the bribery allegations, insisting that the funds were given as a donation to support football development for people of African origin in the Caribbean. However, investigations conducted by the US Department of Justice confirmed otherwise.

The department also revealed that Russia gave out millions of dollars in bribes for the right to host the 2018 World Cup. Trinidad’s long-serving FIFA official Warner was paid $5 million and Guatemala’s Rafael Salguero was promised a $1 million bribe to vote for Russia.

“The profiteering and bribery in international soccer have been deep-seated and commonly known practices for decades. For many years, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the governance and

business of international soccer with bribes and kickbacks and engaged in criminal fraudulent schemes that caused significant harm to the sport. Their schemes included the use of shell companies, sham consulting contracts, and other concealment methods to disguise the bribes and kickback payments and make them appear legitimate,” said William F. Sweeney Jr, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office.

Just like South Africa and Russia, Qatar would soon learn how to play and win the game. Qatar the host of the 2022 World Cup, also paid FIFA executive committee mouthwatering $200 million to vote in her favour. The move to hold the tournament in the Middle East country was opposed by many sports experts, human rights defendants, and media outlets due to Qatar’s limited football history, human rights records, harsh local climate, and high cost expected. In the end, the money power won the game. Qatar got the green light to host the prestigious tournament. The rest is history.

Ten members of the FIFA executive committee who participated in elections that chose the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups

had been questioned by Swiss police and criminal proceedings were opened against some of them and many others.

Consequently, you cannot mention graft in FIFA without naming ex-boss Sepp Blatter. Allegations of corruption dogged him during his 16-year in office. He purportedly offered a $50,000 bribe to African member

countries to vote for him in the 2002 FIFA Presidential elections against his fierce rival Lennart Johansson. In turn, Blatter vowed to take the World Cup to Africa. He kept the promise, which saw South Africa host the World Cup in 2010, the first and only in Africa. 

Sepp Blatter was further accused of selling the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups rights for $600,000 according to reports published by Swiss public television SRF in 2015. In the same year, authorities in Switzerland launched an investigation against him for alleged criminal management in a television rights deal he signed with Jack Warner.

Then came the recent guilty verdict against another world sports administrator Lamine Diack. Until his conviction, Lamine Diack was the head of the IAAF (the International Amateur Athletic Federation). Diack,

87, was on Wednesday, September 16, 2020, handed a two-year jail term by a Paris court after he was found guilty of receiving money from Russian athletes and allowed them to keep competing when they should have been suspended for doping. The Senegalese-born Diack was also handed another 2 years suspended jail term and slapped with a $590,000 fine. Also convicted were Diack’s son, Papa Massata Diack, former IAAF treasurer Valentine Balackhnicher and Gabriel Dolle, a doctor who oversaw drug testing.

Elsewhere, Juan Angel Napout, former president of Paraguay’s Football Federation was jailed for 9 years over racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering that stemmed from a corruption scandal in FIFA. Former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation Jose Maria Marin was

also sentenced to four years in jail in connection with corruption at FIFA.

While many welcome the convictions of sports bosses, a punishment they hope will bring some degree of sanity and confidence in the sports, some have questioned the fairness in the convictions. Ask any sports enthusiasts about corruption in sports, most accusing fingers point to ex-boss FIFA Sepp Blatter, who is seen by many as the godfather of corruption in sports. However, despite the shame he has brought to sports and the millions he allegedly made for himself from sports, he has been till today not sent to jail despite his corrupt dealings. Same with Michel Platini, who was arrested and questioned over $2 million he received from Sepp Blatter. The amount was meant to buy him over in securing the world cup bid for Qatar. The former boss of Europe’s soccer governing body was handed a four-year ban from sports activities. But he was not sent to jail.

The question in the minds of many is: Why are convicted corrupt sports bosses like Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, who illegally enriched themselves in the tone of millions of dollars, not sent to jail, while

others like ex-IAAF head Lamine Diack got jail terms? Are Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini, Jeffrey Webb, Jack Warner, etc above the law? Is the law applicable to only a particular group of people? If we can all agree that corruption must not be tolerated in sports, then it is fair to argue that fairness, which is the slogan of the FIFA, must be the basic applicable condition in the sports administration. It is based on this principle of fairness that one wonders why Lamine Diack’s corrupt practices are treated differently from those of Mr Blatter, Platini and other convicted sports administrators. If Mr Blatter, Platini, Warner, Webb and others could be handed just a ban for their atrocities and illegal enrichments, which run into millions, isn’t it fair to treat Mr Diack, Angel Napout, Maria Marin and others the same way? 

We must wipe out corruption in sports if we want to maintain integrity in the system. Corruption waters down the quality of sports events and denies some participants or countries the same chances or rights in the areas of participation in major tournaments or winning of titles. Corruption robs individuals their rights and discourages hard work, determination and commitments. It is high time we restored sanity in sports by mercilessly fishing out those involved in graft. The law should be applied fairly and impartially, regardless of the status of who is implicated. The same law should not detain some and acquit others, or jail some criminals while others are handed a mere ban. 

Unless we severely, but fairly punish those implicated in sports corruptions, we will end up damaging our beautiful sports, which have so far brought people together – irrespective of their races, religions, nationalities, classes and genders.