How FIFA helped clean up its own mess

COLETIVA DE IMPRENSA PRESIDENTE DA FIFA

By Maria Haberfeld
TheConversation.com

Sepp Blatter has resigned his position as the head of FIFA as allegations of corruption swirled around him from media outlets around the world. His resignation follows a trying week in which FBI investigations brought down other top FIFA officials.

The question is, what difference will this make to rooting out corruption in FIFA and world soccer more generally?

Ironically enough, FIFA itself invested money and time to build tools to address the problem of corruption three years ago.

An international conference of experts

In 2012, FIFA allocated 20 million euros to Interpol (the world’s largest police organization) to create more awareness about corruption in sports -— and more specifically, to fight corruption in soccer.

Based on this donation, Interpol decided to allot some of this money to an international conference that would bring together experts in the field from around the world, to discuss what steps need to be taken to tackle corruption in sports.

I was charged by Interpol with organizing this project.

In fall 2012, experts from around the world met in Singapore to discuss issues surrounding match-fixing and how to combat corruption in soccer.

Our purpose was to identify to what extent and in which ways academia could play a role in this task.

Academics aren’t law enforcement, so we looked at the problem a little differently. Our goal was to find solutions through education. Training modules, academic courses, certification procedures to prevent match-fixing, and furthering the study of corruption were our weapons of choice.

The proposals and partnerships which stemmed from this meeting were to help counteract the lack of international awareness and concern about match-fixing and the vulnerability of young athletes to such schemes.

Our other main objective looked at the possibility of educating people about integrity in sports.

To accomplish these goals and fight corruption, we identified a number of issues vital to addressing the problem.

Four main issues

Legal framework: Establishing a legal framework is critical because – with different legal systems around the world and sometimes within countries – it is difficult to identify global standards of what constitutes illegal behavior.

Common definitions: It’s hard to research and educate about problems that are not clearly defined. What constitutes “match-fixing” is currently a rather vague concept. The effectiveness of any educational or training module is directly related to the clarity of the concepts. A lack of consistent and standardized definitions only further obscures the problem of corruption.

The audience: Society has to be convinced of the existence, the widespread impact, and the importance of match-fixing and other corruption. Whom shall we educate and through which means and methods? Are we targeting the participants, the institutions, or the general public? If we are to target the general public, maybe the issue has to be approached from the standpoint of engaging the media.

Lobbying public officials: Pressure must be applied to public officials, both inside and outside the sport. Some have argued that in places like Africa, if the government, football organizations, educational institutions and law enforcement started to work in a collaborative manner, it would be seen as outside interference. But the fact is that public officials need to speak publicly about why cheating is wrong and why it is a violation of professional sports ethics.

What’s needed to make change happen

I’ve researched ethics in the police for over two decades. Applying the principles I’ve learned from this research has led me to believe that to truly transform FIFA, we need to ask the following questions:

  1. Is the general public fully aware of the magnitude of corruption in football? Indeed, could this latest scandal and Sepp Blatter’s resignation prove to be a tipping point?
  2. How strongly do they condemn this phenomenon?
  3. Do they know the full spectrum of the social, economic and moral damages related to these corrupted practices?
  4. Are they willing to report these various types of corrupted practices?

Since the conference, academics have worked on tackling this issue. Personally, I’ve co-edited a book on match-fixing in international sports, and am working to create a collaboration between the Sorbonne University in Paris and John Jay College to offer graduate courses in ethics in sports.

I think that FIFA’s grant to INTERPOL was a genuine gesture and attempt to at, minimum, bring an international awareness to a multinational problem that until then seemed to fly below the radar of law enforcement organizations worldwide.

I do think that a new leader can bring about a transformational change. However, this can only be done by pulling together a team of experts who will address multiple prongs of the problem, by continuing to raise awareness through education and training. Only then will we have adequate law enforcement response and oversight to corruption in FIFA.

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