Moves are afoot to remove the culture of confidentiality that has protected organisations such as FIFA from international scrutiny.
Legislative changes are on their way so Swiss law enforcement agencies can keep a closer eye on senior figures in the international sports federations which have long benefited from the country’s famous – or infamous – confidentiality culture.
Roland Buchel is a one-time ISL employee who now campaigns, in his role as national council member for the Swiss people’s party, for transparency in sport. He has been scathing about the murky behaviour of some administrators as their sports grew ever richer through multi-million TV and sponsorship deals.
He told an ethics conference* in Zurich that senior FIFA figures will soon fall within anti-money-laundering legislation meaning they “will have the same status as the worst dictators on this planet.”
Buchel identified these as including world football federation president Sepp Blatter and all members of his 27-strong executive committee. Also coming within the remit will be Olympic leader Thomas Bach and heads of other major world sports federations headquartered in Switzerland.
He explained: “Changes in the money-laundering laws have been voted in by the Swiss parliament and will become law in the new year. All the leaders and even many employees of the international sports federations will soon receive a so-called ‘PEP status’. PEP stands for Politically Exposed Person.
“Mr Blatter will be a PEP. His personal assistant will be a PEP. The members of the executive committee will be PEPs. Media officer Walter DeGregorio will be a PEP. Other FIFA officials will be PEPs.
“Their bank account movements will have to be tracked and reported to the Swiss authorities. The same will happen to their family members. They will have the same status as the worst dictators on this planet.”
Senior, non-FIFA, figures within European football federation UEFA will not be under such scrutiny since the legislation applies only to world sports bodies.
The impetus which prompted even reluctant Swiss politicians into action was generated by events over the past 15 years including the bankruptcy of ISL – former commercial partner of both FIFA and the IOC – the Olympic movement’s Salt Lake City scandal and then world football’s corruption cascade through the 2018-2022 World Cup bid process and the 2011 presidential election campaign.
A storm continues to surround the World Cup bid scandal over the ultimate of the 460-page, two-year report compiled by FIFA’s independent investigator Michael Garcia. He believes it should be published while Bavarian judge Hans-Joachim Eckert does not. The row will drag on because verdicts, in any case, are not expected until next April.
Buchel believes sports governance has reached crisis point because “sport has not managed to shape commercialisation in an ethically acceptable manner [after] an unexpected development in the market driven by TV.”
This was not negative in itself however “there is a big divergence between the conduct of business of commercial sports and the type of business conduct which ethics would require.”
For Buchel the roots of the problem were cultural.
He said: “The problems started when sports leaders from South American and southern European countries assumed office. To name four people in order of importance: Juan Antonio Samaranch, former president of the IOC from Spain; Joao Havelange, former president of FIFA from Brazil; Prime Nebiolo, former president of the international athletics association from Italy; and Ruben Acosta, former president of the international volleyball federation from Mexico.
“These gentlemen spearheaded a development in sports which has led to vote-rigging, nepotism and corruption . . . As a result, large-scale sports events are only reluctantly accepted in democratic countries – or even not accepted at all.”
This was part of the reason, according to Buchel, for residents of St Moritz and Munich voting against bids for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
Major sports, said Buchel, were now “organised in countries with a significant ‘democracy deficit'” – and that had turned the IOC and FIFA into ever more vulnerable targets for attack by human rights organisations.
Buchel singled out host nations such as Russia (2014 Winter Olympics and 2018 World Cup), Qatar (2022 World Cup) and Belarus (2014 ice hockey world championship). He also noted that Kazakhstan was one of the few bids left standing for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“Ethics and transparency are the new buzzwords,” said Buchel but too often sports federations were paying mere lip service to the concepts: “In reality, this transparency ends at [being asked to reveal] the salaries of the president and executive committee.
“Sports federations need new credibility. Transparency is needed . . . and I’m speaking about true transparency.”
** The 1st World Summit on Ethics in Sports was organised by the World Forum for Ethics in Business and hosted at the Home of FIFA in Zurich.