Eleni Theodoraki: It's game on when it comes to keeping sport clean

The dark side of doping, match fixing and corruption must not be allowed to flourish, writes Dr Eleni Theodoraki
Ex-Fifa president Sepp Blatter was showered with fake notes as news of scandal around the football body broke. Picture: Getty ImagesEx-Fifa president Sepp Blatter was showered with fake notes as news of scandal around the football body broke. Picture: Getty Images
Ex-Fifa president Sepp Blatter was showered with fake notes as news of scandal around the football body broke. Picture: Getty Images

Sport is a global phenomenon engaging billions of people and generating annual revenues of more than £102 billion. We inherently love it for its power to inspire us as players, fans, patrons and hosts of events.

It is this power to educate, improve and unite us that attracts us to sport - and it is this power that some abuse to achieve outcomes we abhor such as doping, match fixing and corruption.

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We all have a role to play in ensuring these activities are not allowed to flourish and undermine the power of sport to make us and our lives better.

In 2006 I co-authored a piece published by the International Labour Office (ILO) on the key question of how SAFE is sport?

The acronym stands for:

Sustainable – sport should facilitate balanced development not lead to the construction of inappropriate facilities or gigantic events.

Addiction free - sport should contribute towards better health rather than leading to the abnormal use of harmful substances.

Fair – sport should remain an incomparable educational tool and not degenerate into physical or moral violence.

Ethical – sport should contribute to a sound and effective economy and not become corrupted or criminal.

It is clear that current sport systems are bound by the political and economic realism facing the government(s) or private interest that control them. In such a context, investment in sport is seen as a means to certain ends such as health, social development, national pride and wealth accumulation.

However, despite our good intentions, involvement in sport will not always yield positive outcomes.

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Ten years after the initial ILO publication, I authored another piece for Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report on sport. The same issues remain centre stage and unethical practices in sport appear endemic in some contexts. The pervasiveness of poor governance threatens to undermine our whole sport edifice. Money laundering occurs via club ownership, cartels operate in transfer markets and corruption in sport event bidding is reported widely across the world.

Illegal betting syphons money away from good causes widely supported via legitimate lottery schemes and addiction cases are spiralling via unscrupulous betting agents operating underground.

Racism, sexual abuse, homophobia and any forms of intolerance have no place in the sports we enjoy and yet they exist, marring the reputation of sport as a healthy pursuit.

The onus is on the dreamers amongst us to fight the cynics with arguments but it is getting harder to win in such a debate. Social critiques stem from social idealism and it is in this spirit that I ring the warning bell for sport administrators and policy makers to accept the diagnosis offered of our ills and act with expert advice to combat them.

In my Unesco role of advising Ministers of sport on worldwide policy direction I have noticed the challenges of coordinating actions and interventions at the global level.

Some sports-related crime and corruption occurs at a local and regional level but in our globalised world of movement of information, people and other resources, crime tentacles reach widely.

As the example of illegal betting illustrates, a gambling addict in Asia may place a bet via the internet to a betting agent stationed in Europe for a match that is played in Australia and the money is wired via an America-based offshore account.

For national sport organisations to tackle the challenges presented in a concerted manner we need common legal tools, free knowledge exchange, cooperation platforms and better trained sport related anti-corruption officers and sport administrators.

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Unless we dedicate these valuable resources to the cause and unless we prioritise cleaning up sport, we run the risk of damaging it to the extent that it becomes unrecognisable.

The onus may be on ministers and administrators to save sport. But, if we as citizens believe in sport and its power to make our lives better, then we must all try to stop unSAFE sport whenever we spot it. If we shrug our shoulders and say this is not my problem, the incidence goes unreported and slips through the net.

If we allow abusive chanting in the stadium, if we turn a blind eye to the coach who is promoting doping, if we want our city to host an event so much that bribes are acceptable, if our business is willing to sponsor an archaic non-democratic sport organisation then we are all inadvertently partners in crime.

• Dr Eleni Theodoraki is associate professor at the Business School, Edinburgh Napier University, www.napier.ac.uk