The Sports-Corruption Industry and the Great Cover-Up I

Cayman Islands, October 2012: Down in the Caribbean to moderate a conference on anti-money laundering. The islands, concerned about their declining reputation are trying to spruce up their banking practices. One of the highlights of the conference is the speech by the charismatic Vince Cookingham. He is a tough ex-cop – former New York Police Department – and was involved in a number of high-profile investigations, like the Son-of-Sam serial murders and the French Connection drug trade case. During his presentation, he turned on its head pretty much all the shibboleths of the compliance industry. One of the quotes that resonated was his joke, “Terrorism? Not a problem. I can guarantee if any terrorist wanted to invade America, he would be outnumbered a-hundred-to-one by all the consultants in the terrorism industry. The poor guy would not be able to move before all those consultants came swarming all over him.”

I know what Cookingham means. He is in no way trying to claim that terrorism does not exist, but he wants to point out that an industry that has grown up to profit on the ‘fight’ against it. This industry – stacked with consultants – often gets in the way, rather than helps prevent it. It is the same with the sport-corruption industry that has grown up in the last few years.

One example this week from Brasilia, where Transparency International (TI) is hosting a conference on anti-corruption. TI tries to be to corruption, what Amnesty International is to human rights. TI has largely failed, despite some good people in its ranks, and the Brasilia conference is a good illustration of why that is so.

In some of its panel discussions, TI was hosting discussions on sports-corruption. This is a significant event: marquee presentations for the world’s biggest anti-corruption organization at their top conference. So who is not going to be there? Well, actually most of the people who have done most of the work against corruption in sports.

For example, in the last eighteen-months we have seen solid advances in pushing FIFA and other soccer organizations to be more responsive in their governance. This is largely due to the work of Andrew Jennings, the tireless British journalist who has helped expose countless financial scandals within FIFA. Jennings was not be there. Nor was Jens Weinreich – his German counterpart – or Jean-Francois Tanda – their Swiss counterpart. These men have toiled for years to uncover the bribes and kick-backs that senior FIFA executives took in return for lucrative television rights. They were not on stage, because they were not invited. Nor was the courageous Michel Zen-Ruffinen, the first public whistle-blower in FIFA history, who sacrificed his position at the organization to reveal some of the problems there. He was not invited either.

In the last two months, the world has also seen the explosion of the Lance Armstrong scandal. None of the whistle-blowers who risked their reputations and careers to expose Armstrong’s doping practices were on stage. In fact, in TI’s entire exploration of sports corruption there was not a single athlete on-stage.

So who were on-stage? A couple of fourth-generation anti-corruption journalists, an academic who produced a dubious article funded by the gambling industry and lots of sports officials and superannuated policemen. In this issue of sports corruption, some of them are very good, [and on a personal note, some are friends and good colleagues and I do not like to write this about them] but as a group they are not the best people and their unwittingly role – like much of the sports corruption industry – was to help cover up one of the greatest scandals in sports today.

To explain. My work in The Fix is second-generation stuff. I wrote about a group of people – the first generation – who were risking their careers and, at times, their lives to fight against fixing in football. There were, for example, the courageous Malaysian journalists Lazarus Rokk and Johnson Fernandez who had been sued and threatened by the Triads for exposing the wide net of fixing that was going on in their sports leagues. There was a whole selection of other people from players to senior sports officials to policemen. The interesting point, is that almost every single one of these people has been driven out of sport because of their work. However, most of them still understand better than anyone who spoke at the TI Conference the real problems of sports corruption – and again none of them were invited to speak.

After the publication of The Fix, another generation of consultants, academics and journalists emerged. The two most prominent people of this third-generation of anti-corruption activists were Sylvia Schenk (Transparency International) and Chris Eaton (FIFA). Schenk and Eaton had an all too brief time in the official spotlight before their ideas were pushed out of the way and they left their posts. They continue to campaign but with little of the force and attention that they once had.

Now we have a fourth generation of anti-corruption ‘experts’ springing up. They are, for the most part, good people. The problem is that, at the moment, they do not know what they are talking about, and they are, unwittingly, helping cover-up one of the greatest scandals in sports corruption. In the next few weeks, I will post a second article on this specific scandal and why many top-level sports officials are desperate for no one to talk about it – stay tuned.

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