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‘Sports bodies must be monitored to end corruption’ (JMD in Today)

‘Sports bodies must be monitored to end corruption’

Monies meant for distribution should be kept withindependent agency, says award-winning journalist

PUBLISHED: 4:16 AM, JULY 18, 2015

UPDATED: 5:30 AM, JULY 18, 2015


SINGAPORE — Getting rid of the patronage system and having independent bodies that monitor the monies global sports groups collect can stop the scourge of corruption that has plagued many sports organisations, including football’s world governing body FIFA, said award-winning investigative journalist James Dorsey.

These two fundamental reforms are needed, he said, for the billions of dollars governing bodies earned through channels like international television rights to benefit the sports constituencies they serve and not corrupt individuals.

In May, FIFA president Sepp Blatter abruptly announced his resignation four days after securing a fifth term in office after a United States-led arrest of several FIFA officials and senior sports marketing executives in a corruption probe believed to involve more than US$100 million (S$136.5 million) spanning more than two decades.

The Swiss authorities also launched an investigation into the Zurich-based FIFA’s awarding of hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively which was shrouded by bribery allegations.

There is now a movement to limit the term of the FIFA presidency, but Dorsey, currently a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), said this is not enough.

“Term limitations are fine, but there are two fundamental reforms that are sine qua non,” Dorsey, 63, told TODAY.

“Without those reforms there will be no real change. The first is the eradication of the patronage system.

“FIFA, as an NGO, has a large income that for a significant extent is distributed to national football associations (NFAs) to develop football. FIFA distributes this money and ultimately the president distributes it to who he likes and who he doesn’t.”

Dorsey suggests the monies meant for distribution to NFAs should be parked with an independent institution such a board of trustees to guarantee they will be used as intended.

FIFA, which made US$4.8 billion from last year’s World Cup in Brazil, may be part of the board, but it must also have other stakeholders, especially the NFAs and representatives of players, fans, sponsors as well as others not directly associated with the sport.

Added Dorsey: “It must be totally independent of FIFA, in terms of what happens with those monies, who gets them, and on what basis they are given out. This has been totally lacking.”

The second reform cited by Dorsey is for sports organisations like FIFA, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to have independent bodies that monitor them in the same way countries regulate financial institutions.

“They need some form of governance. Part of the problem of global sports is that associations like FIFA, the IOC and AFC, whoever they may be, are essentially a law unto themselves. There is no reason why they should be that,” said Dorsey, a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.

The AFC, in particular, has been in Dorsey’s sights since 2011. Three months ago he handed incriminating documents and a video to the Malay Mail that led to AFC general secretary Alex Soosay resigning over allegations that he ordered a cover-up during a 2012 PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) audit of the organisation’s accounts.

At that time, Dorsey had broken a story that a PwC report asserted AFC’s disgraced former president Mohammed bin Hammam had “used the AFC’s company bank accounts to facilitate personal transactions as if they were his personal bank accounts”. Bin Hammam was previously charged by FIFA in 2011 with offering bribes in his attempt to run against Blatter for control of the world body and has since been banned for life from the sport.

In an interview with TODAY, Dorsey noted that almost a third of the members of the AFC 25-member board are from the Middle East, including current president Salman Khalifa of Bahrain who was elected in 2013. “They are all members of either autocratic ruling families that govern their companies or family corporations. The last two presidents are from the Middle East and they rule the AFC the way their countries are ruled,” said Dorsey.

“The centrepoint of Salman’s last two years in office has been the centralisation of power, burying any attempt at reform or investigating allegations of corruption in the PwC report.”

James Dorsey is an award-winning journalist who won the 2003 Dolf van den Broek prize, and has written for publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is to deliver a lecture entitled “FIFA’s Crisis: The Geopolitics of Football” at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies on Monday (July 20) at 3.30pm.

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