Guest Post: The IOC Is Lagging Behind In Fighting Corruption in Sports Mega Events

Professor Thomas Kruessman, of the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies at the University of Tartu in Estonia, contributes today’s guest post:

Recently Jimmy McEntee criticized the anticorruption provisions that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had added into its standard Host Country Contract (HCC), arguing that the revised HCC language fails to represent genuine progress in fighting Olympic corruption. I might quibble with a few of his arguments, but McEntee’s larger point is essentially correct. For example, while I think McEntee erred as a technical legal matter in asserting that the HCC contains no legal enforcement mechanism, he’s right that as a practical matter, the IOC may not be able to credibly threaten to enforce the anticorruption provisions against a host city, or host National Olympic Committee (NOC) that violates them. Although the IOC is entitled to terminate the HCC and to withdraw the Games from the Host City if there is a violation of or failure to perform “any material obligation pursuant to the HCC or under any applicable law,” this threat is not very credible, given the high stakes involved for the IOC, the demanding timeline on which Olympic Games are prepared, and the fact that termination may invite burdensome and uncertain litigation over what counts as a “material obligation.” For similar reasons, the less extreme remedy of retaining or withholding funds from the host city or NOC or Host National Olympic Committee (NOC) is also not very appealing, and therefore not very credible, in light of the IOC’s strong interest in making the Olympic Games a success and the fact that withholding funds which would weaken the local hosts.

But perhaps McEntee’s most important point—and the one I want to explore further here—is his argument that the HCC’s anticorruption languate is excessively vague. He argues that “a meaningful anticorruption provision – one consistent with best practices for such provisions – would need to include language that requires the host city to ensure that its agents, contractors, suppliers, and consultants do not participate in any corrupt practice” (emphasis in the original). It is here, especially with respect to the failure to deal clearly and adequately with third-party corruption, where the revised HCC lags behind most, and where comparison with another international sporting association’s approach to the same issue—the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Tournament Requirements for the EURO 2024 tournament—is most enlightening. Continue reading

The Interational Olympic Committee’s Revised Host City Contract: Another Failed Attempt at Preventing Corruption

Recent Olympic Games, including the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and the 2016 Rio Summer Games, have been dogged by corruption scandals (see here and here). The Sochi Games were particularly egregious: Russian politician Boris Nemtsov believes that the total scale of the embezzlement accounts for 50-60% of the stated final cost of the Russian Olympics. One example cited was the main 40,000-seat Fisht Olympic Stadium, which was first projected to cost about $49 million. Anticorruption activist Alexy Navalny estimates that the real final cost could well exceed $520 million and may total more than $700 million, many times the fair value. This has led to some very bad publicity for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which organizes the Games. In response to these and other concerns, this past February the IOC made changes to its Host City Contract, which sets out the requirements that cities must meet in order to host the Olympic Games. For the first time, the IOC included specific anticorruption standards and human rights requirements, which were noticeably absent from all previous versions.

The revised provision in the contract states that [the host city must] “refrain from any act involving fraud or corruption, in a manner consistent with any international agreements, laws and regulations applicable in the Host Country and all internationally-recognized anti-corruption standards applicable in the Host Country, including by establishing and maintaining effective reporting and compliance.” The IOC’s revised language integrated a number of recommendations from organizations such as Transparency International, Amnesty International, and the Sport and Rights Alliance. IOC President Thomas Bach explained that the IOC adopted the changes because “[t]ransparency, good governance and accountability are key elements of Olympic Agenda.”

However, both the substance of the terms and lack of enforcement mechanisms mean this provision does absolutely nothing in fighting corruption. The change is little more than a public relations stunt by the IOC to improve its image following numerous criticisms from recent games. Rather than applauding Bach for placing words in a contract, anticorruption activists should continue to push for meaningful change at the Olympic Games. The revised contract fails to represent genuine progress on fighting Olympic corruption for three reasons:

Continue reading

Sports Anticorruption Initiatives: Hail Mary or a Home Run?

Corruption in sports—whether it be match-fixing, the systematic use of performance enhancing drugs, or bribes paid to secure lucrative hosting duties—is by no means a new phenomenon. However, as Transparency International recently noted, this type of corruption has, since at least 2010, been gaining increasing prominence both among anticorruption advocates and the broader international community. Perhaps the most striking example of this trend is the considerable coverage that the various scandals emanating from FIFA’s selection of the World Cup’s host countries has engendered over the past few years (including Melanie’s posts on this blog here and here). Yet the issue is much broader. Last year, for example, a “landmark study” revealed that criminal gangs launder more than £80 billion in the UK from illegal sports betting, and commentators have decried the “dramatic growth in reports of corruption” in sport more broadly.

In response to these increasing concerns regarding corruption in sport, a number of different initiatives have sprung up: The International Olympic Committee has created a “hotline for whistleblowers to report match-fixing and other corruption,” China recently announced that it would be cracking down on the “sport for millionaires” – golf – as part of its broader anticorruption efforts, and last month Transparency International unveiled its Corruption in Sport Initiative, which is focused on “[k]eeping sports clean.”

While it is too early to evaluate the efficacy of some of these programs, it nonetheless may well be worth taking a step back to consider the broader question of whether or not corruption in sports should be a priority for the anticorruption community. Continue reading