The potential for a world sport anti-corruption agency?

Is a World Anti Corruption Body Plausible?

Undoubtedly, the most controversial event at this summer’s Olympic Games, to be held in Rio, Brazil, has been the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision not to order a blanket ban on Russian athletes competing at the event. Whilst this on its own is a contentious decision, and one that will be argued over for the entirety of the duration of the games at the very least. It also adds to the weight of evidence to suggest that a world anti-corruption agency for sports would not be a successful initiative. We explore Is a World Anti Corruption Body Plausible?

WADA – the World Anti-Doping Agency – had recommended to the IOC that Russia should receive a total ban from the games. However, in what has been seen as a monumental cop-out, the IOC has instead passed the decision to allow athletes to compete at the games to the ruling body of each individual sport, with decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis. One caveat to this ruling is that any Russian athlete with a previous doping conviction, even if a ban has already been served, will be unable to compete in Rio.

WADA have done an excellent job in looking into the murky world of doping and cheating that some Russian athletes have been involved in stretching as far back as the Olympic Games held in London in 2012.

However, despite this good work in uncovering widespread doping amongst Russian athletes, WADA does not hold the power necessary to themselves ban countries from competing in international competitions. They are limited to being able to recommend sanctions to the IOC, who themselves make the final decision on a country’s participation.

This ultimately underlines the toothlessness that surrounds an international organisation such as WADA, which was created to monitor the World Anti-Doping Code, but at the same time did not receive powers to punish individuals or organisations found to have broken the code. Instead, WADA is very much a preventative organisation, focussing on improving anti-doping research as well as educating athletes on the dangers of doping.

Now consider this: WADA is an organisation that can find a country to have systematically cheated to improve the performance of its athletes, but cannot make a meaningful intervention to prevent this country from competing at the biggest sporting event in the world. This is despite the fact that there exists a code that outlines exactly what is and isn’t allowed in regards to anti-doping policies and regulations worldwide, and that the organisation was explicitly set up by the IOC, the highest olympic-related sporting body that almost all other major sports are a member of in some shape or form.

Given this, calls for a world anti-corruption agency that investigates matters of corruption in sports, from the grassroots all the way to the upper levels of sports administration, seem fanciful to say the least.

For one thing, there is no unified or equivalent set of principles from which such an organisation could base their work upon. Certainly there is no codified list of anti-corruption laws and rules that could even begin to form the basis of such work. Indeed, even outside of the sporting world there is a struggle to define what corruption is and how broad the scope of anti-corruption should be.

Transparency International, an anti-corruption NGO that has long led the fight against corruption, currently defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. This is a good working definition, but with the need to encapsulate all that corruption can entail it is, understandably, vague. Most worryingly, Transparency’s definition is not a universally accepted one, and allows for multiple interpretations making its usefulness as a basis for a potential world sports anti-corruption code somewhat limited – there is a long way to go from a wide-ranging definition to a codified set of sports-specific rules that could be the foundation of anti-corruption work. It seems unlikely that the IOC would be willing or able to sit down and create such a code any time soon, but without one the authority of any potential world sports anti-corruption agency would be limited.

Moreover, there does not appear to be a strong desire amongst sports administration generally to tackle corruption issues within their own comfy operating spheres. Many talk a good game when it comes to tackling forms of corruption that directly affect their sports, such as match or spot fixing, but when it comes to keeping their houses in order sports organisations are decidedly less eager to get serious. The most obvious case of this is that of FIFA, whose descent into corruption-addled farce has been coming for a long time, and despite the well-trumpeted changes at the organisation in the past twelve months nothing tangible really seems to have been achieved. It is relatively easy to change statutes, rather harder to change entrenched attitudes.

This lack of desire to truly tackle corruption amongst sports administrators is ultimately what will prevent a potential world sports anti-corruption agency from being effective, even if one was created. This is because, as WADA have proven with their inability to prevent Russia from competing in Rio, the organisation would only have as much power as it is given, and it is highly unlikely that the IOC (or many of its members for that matter) would consent to being held properly to account by an outside body. This would be paramount to turkeys voting for Christmas, to borrow a phrase, and seems highly unlikely. There are too many vested interests at the highest levels, and this alone may be enough to ensure a world sports anti-corruption agency fall on deaf ears.


Nevertheless, calls for such a body continue. One created in the mould of WADA, created to advise, investigate and educate on matters of anti-corruption in sports could well have an important impact, but this is only one part of the battle. In an ideal world where a sports anti-corruption agency was able to function properly and effectively and could hand out sanctions that had a deterring effect, this would seem like a good idea. However, the evidence of successes and failures of other, similar organisations in the real world means that, unfortunately, a world sports anti-corruption agency seems further away now than ever before.

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