Guest Post: The Orientalist Criticisms of Qatar’s World Cup

Today’s guest post is from Andy Spalding, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law and the Chair of the Olympics Compliance Task Force.

This year is bookended by two high-profile and highly controversial megasports events: the Beijing Olympics, happening now, and the FIFA Men’s World Cup, to be held in Qatar in November and December. But while commentators often lump these two events together as depressing examples of how megasports events are all too often hosted by corrupt regimes with appalling human rights records, in fact they are quite different. As I argued in my last post, the Beijing Winter Games represents the end of an era—the last Olympics to be awarded before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) insisted on human rights and anticorruption clauses in its contracts with host countries. But Qatar marks a transition to something entirely new, and much more encouraging.

You wouldn’t know that from most of the Western/Northern commentary on Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup, which portrays this as yet another example of megasport abuse. That mischaracterization smacks of what Edward Said called “orientalism”: the tendency of the West/North to dismiss Eastern, and particularly Islamic, perspectives and experiences with an arrogance or hypocrisy that serves to reproduce neocolonial patterns of privilege and domination. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Beijing Olympics Marks the End of the Era of Corrupt Authoritarian Megasports—But What Comes Next?

Today’s guest post is from Andy Spalding, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law and the Chair of the Olympics Compliance Task Force.

The present Beijing Winter Olympics are widely seen as yet another chapter in what has become all-too-familiar story of governance disasters in megasport events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup: 2008, China; 2010, South Africa; 2014, Brazil; and Russia; 2016, Brazil . . . again; 2018, Russia . . . again. And now, China . . . again. But for the last decade, pressure has been building for change in how the organizers of these megasport events approach anticorruption and human rights policy. And at last, change has come—even if it’s not yet obvious to casual observers only looking at the current games.

The period between roughly 2014 and 2018 became a tipping point in megasport anti-corruption and human rights policy. Russia consecutively hosted the Sochi Winter Olympics and FIFA Men’s World Cup with dizzying human rights and corruption problems. Meanwhile, the only two bidders for the 2022 Winter Olympics were China and Kazakhstan. Something had to change. Continue reading

eSports: A Playground for Corruption?

Video game tournaments—sometimes referred to as “eSports”—are relatively new but increasingly popular. In these tournaments, players compete for cash prizes. In certain U.S. states it is now legal to place bets on eSports tournaments, though in other states such betting is prohibited. The growing popularity of eSports and the rise of eSports betting unfortunately gives rise to the risks of the same sorts of corruption that we have seen in traditional sports, such as gamblers (including organized criminal betting syndicates) bribing players to fix matches. And this is not purely hypothetical: Recently the FBI obtained evidence that criminal betting syndicates were bribing a group of players to throw matches in certain eSports competitions.

Responding effectively to bribery-related corruption in eSports is complicated by the fact that, unlike traditional sporting leagues, eSports do not have a central governing body. Rather, each game publisher controls its own tournaments, and many tournament operators have not taken the steps necessary to implement effective mechanisms for identifying betting-related match-fixing activities and levying punishment on bad actors. In 2016, a group of eSports stakeholders tried to address this issue by establishing a nonprofit association called the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC), which is tasked with investigating and disciplining individuals involved in corrupt eSports activities. But ESIC only has authority over competitions organized by its members, and players sanctioned for match-fixing activities within an ESIC member tournament can still compete in non-ESIC member competitions.

More effective measures are therefore needed to prevent the spread of corruption in eSports. In particular, those states that permit betting on eSports tournaments should require, as a condition for betting on such matches to be lawful, that the tournament and betting operators join an authorized eSports governing board equivalent to the ESIC. Authorized governing boards should have the following responsibilities and obligations:

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New Podcast, Featuring Michael Hershman

After a brief summer hiatus, I’m happy to announce that a new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, my collaborators Nils Köbis and Christopher Starke interview Michael Hershman. Mr. Hershman, one of the co-founders of Transparency International (TI), has had a long and distinguished career on issues related to transparency and anticorruption, including work with the U.S. Senate Watergate Committee, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and, more recently, the Independent Governance Committee for FIFA. In the interview, Nils and Christopher talk with Mr. Hershman about his background, the founding of TI, the relationship between corruption and populism, and issues related to corruption and sports, among other topics.

You can find this episode here. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

FIFA Can and Should Do More To Crack Down on Corruption in International Soccer

Just over one year ago, in June 2019, Ahmad Ahmad, the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and a Vice President of FIFA (international soccer’s governing body), who had long been dogged by reports of corruption, was detained by French police at a luxury hotel in Paris. Eight months later, in February 2020, the accounting firm PwC released an audit of CAF’s finances, documenting scores of financial irregularities by Ahmad and his colleagues, including an alleged kickback scheme involving a company run by a friend of Ahmad that did business with CAF.

CAF is just the latest in a long line of international soccer organizations beset by corruption scandals. Corruption in international soccer, long the subject of rumor and speculation, first made mainstream headlines back in 2015, when the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed a series of indictments against officials in FIFA and the regional soccer federations for North and South American (CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, respectively). Those indictments—and the resulting public outcry—forced FIFA, CONCACAF, and CONMEBOL to adopt a series of structural anticorruption measures, such as publicizing financial statements and creating independent audit committees.

Unfortunately, those reforms are not enough. The alleged corruption by Ahmad and his CAF colleagues is not anomalous, but rather symptomatic of two important factors that will continue to contribute to corruption in international soccer, notwithstanding the reforms implemented by FIFA and a few other federations in the aftermath of the 2015 indictments.

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Revisiting the “Public International Organization” Designation for International Sports Organizations under the FCPA

Three years have passed since U.S. federal prosecutors rocked the global sports community by indicting roughly 40 individuals in connection with an investigation into corruption at FIFA. Some preliminary commentary suggested that prosecutors in the FIFA case might bring charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). U.S. prosecutors instead pursued cases under money laundering, racketeering, and fraud charges against the individuals—primarily officials at FIFA and other soccer organizations—who accepted the bribes. In December 2017, for example, prosecutors obtained their first convictions from jury trials in this case, as Juan Ángel Napout (former president of South American football’s governing body) and José Maria Marin (the former president of Brazil’s football federation) were found guilty of racketeering, money laundering, and fraud for accepting large sums of money in exchange for lucrative FIFA media rights deals and influence over FIFA tournament hosting decisions.

The reason that the DOJ has only targeted bribe-taking FIFA officials, and has not used the FCPA to prosecute those who paid those bribes, is that bribes paid to FIFA officials fall outside the FCPA’s scope. But that could, and perhaps should, change.

The 1998 amendments to the FCPA expanded the statute’s scope to cover bribes not just to officials of foreign governments, but to officials of “public international organizations.” An organization may be designated as a public international organization either through an executive order pursuant to an existing statute (the International Organizational Immunities Act), or—importantly for present purposes—“any other international organization that is designated by the President by Executive order[.]” Pursuant to this statutory authority, the President has the power to designate international sports governing bodies like FIFA, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and others as “public international organizations” for FCPA purposes. (The fact that these sports bodies are nominally private does not prevent this; while most of the roughly 80 public international organizations currently covered by the FCPA are intergovernmental organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the list also includes some private, non-profit organizations, such as the International Fertilizer Development Center.) If the President designated international sports organizations like FIFA or the IOC as “public international organizations” for FCPA purposes, then individuals or firms that bribed officials at those organizations could be prosecuted under the FCPA, so long as the U.S. has jurisdiction over the defendants.

This is not a novel or radical idea. For decades, legislators and activists have clamored for designating sports organizations such as FIFA and the IOC as public international organizations under the FCPA. The discussion first surfaced in 1999, when U.S. Senator George Mitchell requested President Clinton to declare the IOC a public international organization following findings of a bribery-ridden culture in the Olympic movement. Senator John McCain later introduced a bill that would bring the IOC under the definition of public international organization under the FCPA, but the bill never made it out of committee. Although these past efforts proved unsuccessful, the time is ripe for revisiting this idea. Indeed, there are at least two compelling arguments for designating FIFA and the IOC as public international organizations under the FCPA.

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Reforming FIFA: Why Recent Reforms Provide Reason for Hope

Over a year has passed since Gianni Infantino was elected President of FIFA. When elected, Infantino promised to reform the organization and win back the trust of the international football community following the numerous incidents of corruption that preceded his tenure as President (see here and here). Corruption not only existed at the executive level of FIFA, but also permeated down to the playing field, where incidents of match fixing and referee bribery were widespread. On the day he was elected, Infantino remarked, “FIFA has gone through sad times, moments of crisis, but those times are over. We need to implement the reform and implement good governance and transparency.”

Yet despite some reforms in the past year, a recent Transparency International report–which surveyed 25,000 football fans from over 50 countries—showed that the public still lacks confidence in the organization, with 97% of fans still worried about corruption, especially match fixing and bribery of officials. While the results show some improvement compared to the previous year, the numbers should worry both Infantino and FIFA: 53% of fans do not trust FIFA, only 33% of fans believe FIFA is actively working against corruption in football, and only 15% of fans have more confidence in FIFA now than they did during last year’s corruption scandal.

The public’s distrust of FIFA is certainly understandable, as is a degree of cynicism regarding Infantino’s promise to clean up the organization. After all, Sepp Blatter ran on a similar platform to Infantino when he elected President in 1998, also claiming that he was going to reform FIFA. Yet despite the lack of confidence in Infantino and FIFA, there are a few reasons to believe that change may be occurring within the organization, and that FIFA, under Infantino’s leadership, may be making strides in the right direction. Since Infantino’s election, FIFA has undertaken the following steps to curb corruption within football and the organization:

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How to Combat Match Fixing, the International Corruption Problem in Sports

The recent rise and prevalence of corruption in sport has drawn the attention of the international community. As Transparency International highlights in their 2016 report, professional sports not only engage billions of people worldwide, but also involve significant amounts of money. Such corruption thus creates tremendous societal and economic burdens. Match fixing is one form of corruption that has impacted a wide range of sports, including tennis, cricket, soccer, boxing, basketball, and baseball all within the last year. This problem not only permeates low-level games, but also impacts high-profile events such as World Cup qualifiers, European Championship qualifiers, and even Champions League Games.

On the surface, it may seem as though match fixing is a victimless crime, or at least one that’s not sufficiently serious to attract the attention of anticorruption advocates. Yet because match fixing scandals have implications that stretch far beyond the playing field, the anticorruption community should care about this problem for at least two reasons. First, as previously discussed on this blog, corruption scandals in sports are highly visible, and corruption in sports can attract public attention in ways that other corrupt activities cannot. Second, match fixing facilitates organized crime and other corrupt activities. Organized criminals engage in match fixing because it is a low-risk enterprise with the potential for large rewards from unregulated betting markets.

A recent report by the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime investigated match fixing and tried to understand some of its underlying causes. The report cites a number of factors that have allowed this threat to grow, including “personal greed, weak governance structures of sport as a sector, easily accessible global betting markets that are open to exploitation, low prioritization of match fixing as a threat by law enforcement agencies and the use of sport by organized criminals to advance their own interests.” In attempting to address these causes, 28 countries have proposed, adopted, or enacted specific legislation criminalizing match fixing. Yet even in those jurisdictions where such sanctions exist, regulations have been ineffective. Unfortunately, the complicated transnational nature of sports betting makes it difficult for regulations to prevent match fixing in an effective way. Proving that match fixing occurred requires collection and analysis of a substantial amount of betting evidence, which is particularly difficult to obtain in unregulated betting markets. Furthermore, despite the presence of regulations, significant financial incentives continue to pressure athletes to participate in match fixing.

Therefore, given the inherent difficulties with controlling such behavior, there are two things that can be done to more effectively deter match fixing.

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Corruption Is a Systems Failure, But Not All Systems Failures Are Corruption

As regular readers of this blog are probably aware, I try to avoid extended discussions about the definition of corruption (see here, here, and here). Of course it’s important to have a sense of what one is talking about, if only to avoid misunderstandings, but I tend to find extended definitional debates arid and unproductive. (As I’ve remarked before, when academics run out of ideas, they start arguing about definitions.) In my view, there isn’t a single “true” or “correct” definition of corruption—only definitions that are more or less useful, depending on the context. I’m generally perfectly happy with the fairly standard “abuse of entrusted power for private gain” definition. There’s some inherent vagueness (and perhaps some normative/legal judgment) built into concepts like “abuse” and “private gain,” but so what? There are lots of other open-textured concepts that researchers are able to study even though their boundaries are not completely sharp and clear (and where we must sometimes make do with arbitrary cut-off points).

Still, I do think one of the hazards of a term like “corruption” is the occasional tendency to define it so capaciously that it loses any specific meaning. There is an associated tendency to confuse or conflate the somewhat distinct meanings that “corruption” can have in different contexts (for example, legal versus non-legal contexts). So I think, despite my usual aversion to definitional squabbling, it’s occasionally useful to push back against the attempt to define corruption so broadly as to swallow up every way that an institution or organization can go wrong.

I came across an illustration of this in an opinion piece in last week’s Boston Globe (based on an associated post on the MIT Sloan Management Review blog) by George Mason Professor Gregory Unruh. Professor Unruh frames his piece using the recent arrests of various FIFA officials, but suggests that the focus on the personal moral failures of these individuals “muddles executives’ understanding of what corruption is and how it can be managed.” Rather than defining corruption in terms of the “dishonest abuse of power or moral depravity,” Professor Unruh advocates what he calls “the engineer’s definition”:

Any organized, interdependent system in which part of the system is not performing duties as originally intended to, or performing them in an improper way, to the detriment of the system’s original purpose.

This definition, Professor Unruh claims, makes “[i]dentifying corruption in … social systems [like businesses] straightforward.” I don’t think it does. Or if it does, it does so only by defining corruption so expansively as to make the concept essentially useless. Continue reading

The U.S. Indictments of FIFA’s Corrupt Officials Are Legally, Morally, and Politically Justified

For avid soccer fans and students of anticorruption, last week’s announcement that top FIFA officials had been indicted by U.S. authorities was not all that shocking. Commentators on this blog have been documenting FIFA’s collision course with the criminal justice system for some time now (see here, here, and here). But as American law comes to bear on the world’s most powerful sporting organization, it has caught the attention of millions. The reaction of many has been a wry “How fitting? The Americans going after soccer, and relying on tenuous legal reasoning to boot.”

Harvard Law School Professor Noah Feldman articulated the critique in a recent Bloomberg article, entitled “The U.S. is Treating FIFA Like the Mafia.” Feldman’s overarching point is that, while FIFA may be a problematic organization, the U.S. enforcement action reflects dubious politics more than genuine legal interest. Professor Feldman raises three main objections to the DOJ’s indictments–focused, respectively, on the law, policy, and politics of the indictments. First, with respect to the law, he casts doubt on the legal basis for prosecuting FIFA officials under the U.S. Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), given that the alleged offenses occurred on foreign soil, and suggests more generally that the entire case is absurd because RICO is designed to go after organized criminal enterprises, not sporting organizations like FIFA (or groups within FIFA). Second, Professor Feldman contends that, as a matter of policy, even if the U.S. has a sound legal basis for prosecution, exercising its jurisdiction in this case is inappropriate due to the lack of a strong U.S. interest in misconduct within FIFA, given that the U.S. cares much less about soccer than most other countries do. Third, and related to the preceding point, Professor Feldman suggests that the political fallout from the indictments is likely to be damaging to the U.S. He argues that the underlying premise of the RICO action–that FIFA (or a group within FIFA) is a criminal enterprise–is “incendiary,” and will be viewed as an imperialistic power play by the United States against soccer’s true fan-base (a.k.a, the rest of the world).

In my view, Professor Feldman is wrong on the law, shortsighted about the scope of U.S. interests in the alleged criminal conduct, and overly pessimistic about the political repercussions of the U.S. action. If the facts alleged can be proven, the U.S. is legally, morally, and politically justified in treating the indicted FIFA officials as RICO offenders.

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