The sports industry has started to recover from initial lockdown measures but the impact of COVID cannot be understated. Finances are stretched and, in the UK, entire competitions are facing insolvency. The summer also saw the postponement of both the UEFA European Championships and the Tokyo Summary Olympics, but December brings some optimism as fans are slowly returning to stadiums and most sports have started to adapt to the new normal.
December 2020 also marks the ten year anniversary of FIFA’s decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively. At the time the decisions caused much head-scratching as there were multiple strong contenders for both of the tournaments. With the benefit of hindsight, it is apparent that there were serious issues with how these prestigious and lucrative tournaments were awarded.
There were 22 members of the FIFA Executive Committee who cast their votes and, ten years on, ten members have served bans for corruption or ethical breaches. Banned individuals include Sepp Blatter, former FIFA President, and Michel Platini, former UEFA President, who were both cheerleaders for the winning 2022 bid. To add to the confusion, three members subsequently had their bans overturned, including Franz Beckenbauer who was sanctioned for refusing to co-operate with FIFA’s own investigation into ethical breaches.
Astronomical amounts of money follow the World Cup. The 2018 tournament provided a welcome boost to the Russian economy and travelling fans spent upwards of USD 1.5bn during the tournament alone. So it is no surprise that these events can also act as a magnet for corruption and this effect isn’t just isolated to football. Lamine Diack, a member of the International Olympic Committee, was sentenced in 2018 to four years in a French prison for a range of corruption offences. Any sport with high profile tournaments or money-spinning television rights could be next.
A solution is not straightforward but it must involve more transparency in how the biggest decisions are made. Fans, the most important stakeholders in sports, need comfort that the money they pour into the industry isn’t being siphoned away by middlemen, agents, or outright bribery. This comfort can only come with proper governance, oversight, and independent monitoring of the corruption risks in the sports industry. This is especially important in the current environment where corruption scandals will deter both fans and sponsors alike.
The immediate aim is to restore the sports industry to where it was in 2019, but there is a real opportunity to bring it back better. FIFA and other governing bodies are rightly focussed on providing a safe environment for fans and players, but the disruption of COVID can also be an opportunity to reset governance in sports and act to prevent further scandals.
Authored by Founding Partner Toby Duthie and Manager Shaf Sohail.