Simon Catto: Proud efforts to expose corruption

Fifa president Sepp Blatter leaves after announcing his resignation. Picture: AP
Fifa president Sepp Blatter leaves after announcing his resignation. Picture: AP
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THE public hari-kari performed by Sepp Blatter last Tuesday has a depressing ring of familiarity about it.

You don’t have to look hard to find other examples of senior public figures who, having been implicated in a scandal of some kind, vigorously deny any liability or involvement, before capitulating and falling on their sword.

While Blatter’s ultimate fate may have come at the end of a well-worn path, it’s important to acknowledge that corruption (or alleged corruption, in this case) rarely comes to light of its own accord.

It was only a few days ago that many people reacted with shock at the sight of seven Fifa executives being arrested on corruption charges in Switzerland. The shock arose not from the allegations of corruption – those had been widely circulated for many years – but from the fact that there was an organisation with the wherewithal and perseverance to attempt to bring those responsible to book.

Yet senior Fifa officials weren’t the only sporting figures being accused of corruption last week. In a much less high-profile case, John Sutton, an Irish amateur snooker player, was suspended from his sport for six years. His crime had been to deliberately contrive a 6-0 defeat in a qualifying match at the International Championship Qualifying event last year. A total of ¤18,000 was staked on that outcome, a sum vastly larger than wagered on any other outcome in the match or indeed any other match at that stage in that tournament.

Sutton was not a successful sportsman – he was a reasonable snooker player who had failed to secure his tour card on a number of occasions but received the odd invitation to compete in professional tournaments. He had four children and couldn’t make a sufficient living from the sport to support his family. He kept other jobs while practising snooker. He was therefore susceptible to attempts at corruption. A suspicion of corruption is one thing. Proving that the outcome had been fixed, and sending a message to others who might consider match fixing that to do so is deeply unwise, is quite another.

These two cases highlight the importance of fearless oversight and the relentless pursuit of integrity in sport. The press conference given by the FBI and the Attorney General (memorably and accurately described as ­“badass” by one tabloid journalist) will have left the accused in no doubt as to the strength of their opponents. The detailed analysis of the evidence, the meticulous preparation over many months and the pride with which the individuals unveiled their work was hugely impressive.

The same applies to the judgment of snooker’s Independent WPBSA Panel, led by solicitor Tim Ollerenshaw, in the Sutton case. It is a thorough dissection of the evidence. The same fairness and rigorous approach was extended to Sutton as would have been found in any court. The days of sporting organisations issuing opaque decisions from smoke-filled rooms have long gone.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, corruption in sport can be easy to spot. Surely no-one would, of their own volition, believe that Qatar, a country with no track record of success in international football, no football infrastructure and summer temperatures exceeding 40 degrees, was a suitable venue for the world’s largest football tournament? But Fifa did. Surely no-one would bet ¤18,000 on the correct score in an obscure snooker match? But Sutton’s associates did.

Identifying corruption at the time and dealing with those responsible is an important and difficult job. After all, the essence of sport is fair competition. That means rules; and rules have to be enforced if they are to carry any weight.

We should be grateful for the skill and determination of the rule makers, the prosecutors, the Tribunal members and others who identify and stamp out corruption in sport. It is those who deal with Sutton the snooker player and are currently dealing with the Fifa officials who help keep sport clean. «