News 26th October 2015

Play The Game 2015: Sport needs to show why it is still fit to govern

Sport needs to demonstrate to athletes and the public that it can still be trusted to govern, otherwise it will be forced to change by those who provide its revenues, heard the 350-plus delegates attending Play The Game in Aarhus, Denmark, 25-28 October. “Sport has not paid enough attention to various forms of corruption”, warned Dick Pound, the first President of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and former Vice President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), adding that the current FIFA situation displayed an “astonishing” lack of transparency. “The desultory attempts to deal with the problem have been completely ineffective.”

Pound warned that unless sport deals with the perception that it is corrupt, then pressure for change would come from outside of sport. “The only way that international sport can be forced to change is to hit them in their wallets – hit them where it hurts”, he said. “Sponsors are involved because customers want them to be involved – don’t forget that”, he said. “Sponsors won’t stay where the customers don’t want them to stay”.


Delegates also said that sport has a developing issue over its treatment of whistleblowers. Via a Skype connection, delegates heard from Yuliya and Vitali Stepanov how despite being invited to Play The Game, they had declined to attend in person due to a continuing fear that they may be targeted by Russian authorities over their part in a documentary produced by German investigative journalist Hajo Seppelt, in which they said that systematic doping is occurring in Russia.

Bonita Mersiades, who was targeted after publicly stating that she had given evidence to the FIFA Ethics Committee’s investigation into the awarding of the right to host the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, agreed with the Stepanovs that witness protection programmes needed to be developed for whistleblowers in sport. Mersiades repeated her allegations that the Australian bid committee had a “Brown paper bag” slush fund administered by three consultants to bribe football confederation members, including a A$4 million fund designed for the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) and a A$640,000 payment to Jack Warner to upgrade a stadium two months before the 2010 vote to appoint the 2018 and 2022 hosts.

She said that when she was sacked, she was told that she would never work in Australia again, and that she hadn’t been able to get a job in five and a half years. She also said that her computer had been hacked so severely that the hosting company had been forced to shut down for four days. She said that one of these attacks had been traced to Zurich.

“Eleven of the 22 who voted now banned, which showed what I knew all along – the whole thing was corrupt”, she said. “Sport is a community asset. It belongs to the people. Whistleblowers are the fifth pillar.”

Later on in the day, German investigative journalist Hajo Seppelt explained how he had been threatened by the IAAF over his investigation into systematic doping in Russian athletics. He referred to a letter sent to warn him over publishing confidential athlete data. You can read an interview with Seppelt about his investigatory work here.


Pound said that he could not comment on the WADA Independent Commission investigation into doping allegations involving the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and Russia until they are complete. However, he did say that the independent commission will be free publish its report in full if WADA doesn’t release the report in full within 30 days of it being given to them. “We didn’t want to get into a FIFA situation where the report is effectively buried and rewritten”, he said.

Halo Seppelt also highlighted that media companies have a right to investigate sport and ask questions. “ARD pay a lot of money to cover athletics”, he said. “We have a right to ask critical questions. But these people don’t want to reply”.

WADA’s Director of International Relations, Frédéric Donze, highlighted that WADA’s Foundation Board is 50% composed by governments and 50% by the Olympic movement. This started an interesting debate about whether, given the current crises affecting sports governance, the public and athletes could continue to trust that sport could carry out its dual role of defending the athlete, but also prosecuting them. Donze argued that the reforms implemented at the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) showed that by reacting to a crisis, sport could move in the right direction.


• The Sunday Times exposé on FIFA was given 11 pages in the newspaper. This is unheard of, expect in war time, said Michael Calvert of the Sunday Times insight team. Yet US investigator Michael Garcia wouldn’t accept any of the Sunday Times’ documentation as evidence in his investigation into the voting process to award the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups.

• Calvert alleged that a deal was struck between FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and the Qatar royal family that Mohamed bin Hammam wouldn’t stand against Blatter in exchange for votes for Qatar to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. “You can’t have minor change”, he said. “I think you probably need to scrap the whole organisation and start again”.

Peter Nicholson, a former member of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) and now the International Cricket Council (ICC)’s Ethics Officer, pointed out that the athlete Whereabouts guidance is 34 pages long, which could be viewed as an abuse of human rights in itself. He also suggested that athletes could self-test, and suggested that international federations should be investing money in this. He argued that testing at the Tour De France is a waste of time. There were 650 tests and the money could have been better spent investigating doping. He suggested using professional investigators, and an obligation for athletes to disclose all personal information.

• UK investigative journalist Andrew Jennings, who did much to uncover corruption at FIFA, was not at the conference. However organisers revealed that he is working on a new FIFA Panorama programme.

Play the Game has produced a review of Day One of the conference, which can be accessed here. A further review from Day One is available here, and the Sports Governance Observer Report, unveiled at the conference, is available here.

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