Road map for better governance in sport
22.12.2005By Michel Zen Ruffinen
Here is a story: An American, an Italian and a Frenchman are walking the streets of New York talking about their respective abilities to build monuments in their respective countries. The Italian says to his two colleagues: "Listen, we are the best by far. We have built the Pisa Tower in three months." The French guy counters this by saying: "Maybe you have done that but we are much better. We were able to build the Eiffel tower in Paris in two months." No reaction from the American and they go on walking in the streets of New York. Ten minutes later they stop in front of the Empire State building and the Italian is watching the tower and asking the American: "Hey, can you tell me what is this tower?" The American looks at the monument and says: "No clue, it was not here yesterday."
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a real pleasure for me to be leading this final session of this very important conference in Copenhagen, and if I start with a small joke it is to underline that the problems which are here today may sometimes not have been foreseen. Sport is a little bit different. In sport we know exactly what the problems are. Unlike doping all - and I insist all - the unethical and illegal methods used in sports right now are known. And I would like to start with a few examples which would be funny if they were not so dramatic.
Bribing football referees
Some fifteen days ago I was an assistant in a referee's trio which was in charge of a UEFA cup match in a city which I will not disclose but which was in a Latin country where people do not speak French and do not speak Italian.
On the morning of the match we were brought by the manager of the club to the main department store in the city which was the capital of the country which I will not disclose. It was ten in the morning, the manager of the club asked the manager of the store to come and welcome us which was very nice of him and told him that "Sir, these gentlemen are here for a short stay in our wonderful city. It is 10 am, I will meet them back here at 1 pm and all what they buy in the meantime will be paid by the club."
This might be funny to hear when you are a Swiss referee who have all that you want to have in your own country. But imagine the same sentence and the same promise made to a referee from say Uzbekistan in the period they had almost nothing to eat in that country. And you can easily imagine the consequences of that kind of small corruption if the members of the referee trio go to every single department of the department store and come back four hours later with all they have found in the meantime.
So this is the first example which shows that very simple tendencies to corruption can have devastating effects.
Principles of attribution
The second example I would like to use is in connection with the attribution of competitions. I would like to mention the example of the Olympic Games. It is quite interesting because what happens in the Olympic Games is exactly the same in other organisations when it comes to attributing competitions.
I was involved in the candidature of my own city in 1999 when the Olympic Committee decided to award the 2006 Winter Games to Torino. My hometown was bidding for the fourth time and had by far the best file on the day the decision was taken. There was a final sprint between two bidding cities as is always the case - a final sprint in which we were involved together with Torino.
Torino was bidding for the first time and had a file in which some weaknesses had been detected by the organs of IOC when studying the candidature. In view of that, thousands and thousands of people had been celebrating the night before the decision because we were sure we would get the games. You can imagine the consternation when all these people assembled in the main square of the town and it was announced that the Winter Games would go to Italy and not to Switzerland for reasons which we can easily imagine and which have been very disappointing: A city in which the inhabitants were not even aware of the candidature of their city against a city who had been trying to get them for the fourth time.
All the dilemmas leading to such a decision whether in the Olympic Committee or all the other associations or federations basically have little to do with real sport and this is something which we should definitely keep in mind when proposing some rules for these organisations in the future.
So basically we have to say all the problems in that area are known. The question is why - when we know the problems - are we not in a position to make sure these problems disappear?
It is very easy. There is only one reason for that, namely that there are too many personal interests involved. From the moment you can eliminate the personal interests of a person in a specific result or specific position we will not be in need of organising conferences such as this one again.
Examples of steps against cheating
Steps have been taken to fight against some of the problems I have mentioned. Let us take some examples: Doping. The fight against doping has become a priority of IOC, which has launched WADA with a lot of success, and this organisation is quite successful in countering the new illegal methods invented.
With regards to referees being tentatively corrupted, new rules have been introduced by the organisations - especially by UEFA - under which there is a neutral inspector travelling with the referee's trio to make sure that they are not subjected to pressure. Pressures of the kind a colleague of mine was facing when he was in another city in a country where we speak French and where he found on his bed a hi-fi Pioneer system to the value of 2,500 dollars and where three girls - allegedly interpreters - were waiting in the reception for them. So to avoid that kind of pressure their inspectors travel with the refs.
Regarding cheating: There are very good rules with respect to the video control to make sure that if a guy strikes an opponent or if he feigns an injury you can discover the truth afterwards. The famous example of the match Chile versus Brazil 20 years ago in a World Cup qualifier where Chile had to win, where Chile was losing one-nil shortly before the end of the game and where a rocket was thrown from the stands and fell beside the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper feigned being hit by the rocket and was transported out of the field of play which led to revolutions in Santiago where thousands of people were demonstrating in front of the embassy and were asking for the match to be replayed because the goalkeeper had allegedly been hit by the rocket which six months later proved to be totally wrong and led to very strong sanctions against Chile.
It all proves that there is action taken by the sports association. But again: If you look carefully at the examples I have mentioned, they are all related to sanctions or control systems taken in connection with other people than the one making the rules. And this is exactly where we have the problem.
Sports adminstrators will not undermine their own privileges
As long as sports governors or sport administrators are asked or are in positions to make rules which do not affect their own interests they are very active. And the result is quite good. But from the moment you start to ask them to amend some rules under which or through which they could lose some of their privileges or which could endanger their own position, there is silent radio. That's absolutely clear.
Take the example of someone in whatever organisation who wants to make sure that the chairman of that organisation leaves when he is seventy years old - which is a nice age where people should definitely concentrate on other things than leading sports organisations.
He will submit in accordance with the statutes of the organisation a formal request to the general assembly and ask said assembly to introduce a new article in the statutes under which when you have reached this age you should resign from your position.
I can guarantee to you that sixty minutes after having launched such a proposal he will be contacted by some other members of the organisation who will propose to him a new position within the same organisation on the condition that his nice but definitely not well thought through proposal is withdrawn. Mainly because the person who is at the head of the organisation is in no hurry to leave his position which is understandable because it gives him a lot of privileges.
Insufficient rules of governance in national and international sports
Another example which may be more important than just an example of someone becoming a bit old. It is the principle under which professional organisations have to be run.
Let's start with the clubs. As you know, the clubs are the basis in all team sports - the real basis of the sports pyramid. They are - especially in football - the basis on which the pyramid is founded, and if you have a problem at the bottom at the pyramid, you will have big problems at the top.
Clubs running professional sports are organised like real commercial firms. Most of them are PLC (public limited companies) or at least limited companies. The administrators of such PLC's have a very heavy responsibility and liability under the respective country laws. There are strict rules to follow with respect to the management of the stretcher and they run big risks if some problems are discovered in relation with the management of the club at the end of the year when the annual balance sheet is done and checked by the accountants.
Now, forget the clubs and go one step up to national associations. National associations are just an assembly of clubs and they are all - with no exception - organised as simple sports associations to which the so-called national association rules do apply. And these rules - quite simply - say that you may form a legal entity all of you together by expressing this will in your statutes and that you are supposed to have one general assembly a year to expose what you have done the year before. Some associations at national level earn a lot of money and with this setup how can you expect that a proper control is done and how can you expect that persons in charge of running those associations feels as being under constant control with all that it means in terms of liability?
Now you go to the top. To the international organisations. And you have exactly the same picture. With the worst situation. Because we are not speaking of a one million dollars turnover on an annual basis but for two or three of them we are talking about one or two billions. And you should not be amazed that at the end of the day the control which is executed by internal organs on the people having to run international organisations can not point out every problem which is detected in the meantime.
So in my opinion we should not make the people running such organisations appear more guilty than they are. The real problem is that the rules which are the basis of such organisations are totally, totally insufficient. And having been asked by the organisers of this conference to propose a road map for a better governance in sports, I would say that such a road map is for the time being not possible or may at least not be totally completed as long as some basic rules like the ones I have described are not effectively issued.
Two types of road maps
There are, if you like, two kinds of road maps for a better governance in sport. The small one, which I call roadmap no.2, is a map which is automatically renewed or redrawn by GPS. This is the road map which relates to unethical illegal methods like doping. Whenever a problem is identified, automatically you have by satellite - and the satellite in that case is the sports organisation in charge of the competition - a decision and effects on the map and the map is redrawn in that the regulations are redrafted in the organisations. So the roadmap no. 2 in my opinion works very well.
We have, however, a big problem with roadmap no.1.
The roadmap no. 1 is the main one under which the basic rules to the administrators are issued. This roadmap is not adapted to reality. Whenever you ask people to take steps in this respect, they will feign or give the impression that they are active in that respect whereas they do exactly the contrary.
In other words: They ask for a time out or they throw the ball out or they put the ball in the corner. And when the ball is put back in the game again it is with rules which are not the ones which the people who identified the problem were asking for.
To take a sports image: When a rule in whatever sport does not work, you amend the rules. You take the laws of the game, you convene a body and with the people of this body, you define new rules under which the sport in question should work in the future.
What is valid for the sport itself is unfortunately not valid for the rules governing the organisations in question. The problem I think we are all facing is that there is not enough support coming from the normal world towards the sports world when rules have to be amended or to force sports administrators to amend the rules.
The public should act as prosecutors on behalf of sport
Unlike more spectacular actions like a crime or other penal infringement which will shock the public opinion and which will force the authorities to take action against the perpetrator of the criminal offence, in sport the public opinion is not really concerned with all the scandals or the stories they hear about illegal governance. They are just very satisfied with the fact that these organisations do organise interesting competitions. They are much more concerned with the results of a match of team A versus team B than in the results of an investigation against mr. X in connection with doping infringements unless of course these doping infringements has a consequence for the result.
And this is where I think this conference can be important. We need - I say we because we are all defending the same values - to get support from outside, the legislators should be helping more, the public opinion should be helping more. We are all in a way the prosecutors working on behalf of sport.
When I studied law some 25 years ago it was not to become a sports official. My intention - in line with my career as a FIFA referee - was to become a criminal prosecutor in order to restore what in my opinion was becoming a real problem in the world, namely the fact that honesty was disappearing, people lie, and they say exactly the contrary of what they are doing.
Now, being in sports we should try to hold on to this language and we should try to act as prosecutors for the sport meaning that our priority should not be to condemn such people who unfortunately do not share the same values or are more interested in themselves than in the sport they are defending or managing.
It means that as prosecutors we should propose some rules, some guidelines making sure that in the future conference like the one which is terminating in a few minutes would not be necessary anymore. I think the wish which we can express after such a debate is that if there is a Play the Game again it should really be to speak about the game being played and not about the game being put in disrepute.
In that sense I would like to thank the organisers for having taken the initiative to this conference. I very much like its title: Home for homeless questions in sport - it could not better describe the situation. The kind of problems which are debated here are never debated. They do not interest most of the sports organisations because they have something else to do - which is fine - but I think it is of paramount importance to help such organisers to make the right decisions with respect to the way they do manage their sport in order to make sure that in the future we will all be able to enjoy real true and honest sport. Thank you very much.