Features 13 December 2018

SIGA signs UNESCO agreement, but questions remain over body’s aims

The Sport Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) has signed an agreement with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to build a ‘business case for sports integrity’ that is designed to be presented to governments in order to encourage them to invest in sports integrity. However, questions remain about the true aims of the organisation, which appear to mirror those of its founder, the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS).

The SIGA statement states that the UNESCO project will involve gathering ‘empirical evidence’ to demonstrate ‘the political, economic and social benefits of protecting the integrity of sport and, notably, the return on investments in this area’. The Sports Integrity Initiative has asked SIGA who will be responsible for implementing this project and when it will be delivered, but has yet to receive a reply.

The establishment of such a ‘business case’ for governments to invest in sports integrity was the first of five ‘Actions’ outlined in the Kazan Action Plan, approved at the International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education in Sport (MINEPS) in Russia in July last year. In a separate development, the Council of Europe yesterday adopted a similar Recommendation. It urges the 47 Member States of the European Union to implement measures to safeguard the integrity of sport. These include:

• Ensuring that national legislation allows for the effective prosecution of cases involving corruption in sport;
• That anti-money laundering and anti-corruption legislation is used to respond to cases of corruption in sport;
• Consider introducing compliance with good governance principles as a pre-requisite for the receipt of funding by sport;
• Ensure that effective protections are introduced to protect whistleblowers that expose corruption in sport.

SIGA’s origins

ICSS – Securing Sport 2015 – Harold Pratt House, New York – 3/11/15
Emanuel Mederios speaking at Day 1 of Securing Sport 2015 – the annual conference of the International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS)
Photo Hilary Swift for ICSS

SIGA was established by the ICSS in April 2016, following the announcement of its intention to establish such a body at its Securing Sport event in New York. At that November 2015 event, ICSS President Mohammed Hanzab denied accusations that the ICSS – which is 70% funded by Qatar – was working for Qatar’s benefit. The CEO of SIGA is Emanuel Macedo de Medeiros, who is also CEO of ICSS Europe.

Questions remain

The aims of SIGA appear remarkably similar to those of the ICSS. ‘SIGA works towards a vision of sport played and governed under the highest integrity standards, free from any form of unethical, illicit and criminal activity, to safeguard sports values and ensure its positive impact and benefits to all citizens’, reads a section of its internet site outlining its Vision and Mission. ‘The mission of SIGA is to provide global leadership, promote good governance and safeguard the integrity of sport through a set of universal standards operated by an independent, neutral and global body.’

‘Our Vision: For sport to be safe and ethically governed so that its positive values remain an inspiration for all’, reads a section of the ICSS internet site dedicated to its Vision and Mission. ‘Our Mission: To be the independent global leader in safeguarding sport through our efforts to ensure good governance, integrity and safety and security in sport.’

From SIGA’s Statutes…

The ICSS does not publish accounts. SIGA does publish annual accounts, but there appears to be confusion about whether it is partly or wholly funded by its members. ‘As set out in the SIGA Statutes, the funding of our coalition is comprised of several income sources’, reads SIGA’s internet site. ‘One of these income sources are the membership fees. All Members contribute to SIGA’s funding in accordance with their own means […] In the interests of transparency, by 11 January 2018, SIGA will publish online who has paid and how much they have paid. This will be regularly updated to reflect new members joining.’

SIGA’s 2017 accounts (PDF below) reveal that from 31 January to 31 December 2017, it received a total of £357,541 in income, all of which came from membership fees. The major contributors to this income, as highlighted in this media statement, are Dow Jones Sport, ICSS Insight, La Liga, MasterCard and Qatar Airways, all of which contributed £43,500 during the year. Seventeen Members are listed in the statement – much less than the 44 SIGA Members listed on its internet site.

During that year, SIGA travelled to Malta, Paris, hosted a special session of the United Nations in Geneva; attended the ACAMS 16th Annual Anti-Money Laundering & Financial Crime Conference in Las Vegas; held a Sport Integrity Forum and General Assembly in Lisbon; spoke at the World Football Forum in China; hosted a reception in New York; and participated in an EU Sport Forum hosted in Malta. As might be expected from such activities, its greatest expenses during the 2017 financial year were public relations (£129,493); Advertising (£41,506); and Accommodation and Subsistence (£29,886). 

Perception problem

Both the ICSS and SIGA appear to form numerous partnerships and host numerous events pledging action on issues that affect the integrity sport. But questions remain as to what the ICSS and SIGA, as well as the numerous organisations they have formed, actually do to protect the integrity of sport. The new organisations formed by the ICSS and SIGA include:

• The Financial Integrity and Transparency in Sport (FITS) project;
Save The Dream;
ICSS Insight;
ICSS Enterprise;
• The SIGA Independent Rating and Verification System (SIRVS);
• The Sport Integrity Unit (SIU).

At a conference earlier this year, The Sports Integrity Initiative asked ICSS Europe and SIGA CEO Medeiros what the ICSS was actively doing to tackle match-fixing. “How many more scandals do you need?”, he replied. “We have seen this unprecedented tsunami falling upon FIFA. You have seen the largest sporting organisations in the world being decapitated, from FIFA to UEFA to CONCACAF to CONMEBOL. All the organisations and individuals with responsibility need to wake up and so something about it. Sport needs to shape its own future on a voluntary basis, and I think that the world of sport has not yet come together in terms of collaborative attitudes in the way that it should. I am also aware of a lack of means in terms of law enforcement.”

The Tackling Match Fixing conference was organised in partnership with InsideWorldFootball, whose Editor is listed as a SIGA Member. A gala dinner at the event was sponsored by Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, which is responsible for delivering the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar.

The ICSS established the SIU in December 2017, which has received over 100 cases through a Sport Integrity Hotline since it went live in January this year. In September, it announced that the majority of these cases remain active or pending, and 7.8% had been closed. This shows that the ICSS is passing on information about corruption in sport to the sporting organisations concerned and/or the Police. But it does not appear to be making such information public, even in the coded way that other sports integrity organisations – such as ESSA – do.

In 2015, the ICSS told The Sports Integrity Initiative that it prefers to take enforcement action behind the scenes. “The ICSS is not about announcing what we do”, said its former Executive Director of Integrity, Chris Eaton. “We do it because we recognise that sport can’t look after itself in this respect, so we pass on the information to people who can do something about it”. 

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah with Pat Hickey…

Earlier this month, the ICSS denied allegations that it had tailed Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah as part of a covert ‘Operation Hawk’. Sheikh Ahmad has stepped aside from various roles in sport whilst the Ethics Committee of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) investigates various allegations against him. An investigation by Mediapart made a number of allegations about the ICSS including that although it regularly sends information on suspicious matches to police, it failed to do so regarding a 6 November 2014 match between Qatar and North Korea.

In 2015, an ICSS Report leaked to The Daily Telegraph revealed that up to 60 Canadian Soccer League (CSL) games may have been fixed by European crime gangs, however doubts were cast on the accuracy of the ICSS’s Report. A URL still exists for an ICSS statement responding to the article, but the content has been removed. 

Both organisations have released research into sports integrity issues. In 2014, the ICSS and the University of Paris Pathéon Sorbonne released a 700-page report into match-fixing. This contained the valuable revelation that money laundering is sometimes tolerated in the regulated betting industry, which needs the liquidity it provides due to large amounts flowing through its accounts. 

In November this year, SIGA released the preliminary findings of a report complied with the International Association of Lawyers (UIA), which found a general lack of transparency regarding football club ownership. The study was part of the FITS project, an initiative launched by the ICSS in 2014.

Such research projects are valuable, but an argument exists that they may have taken place without the involvement of the ICSS and SIGA. The ‘behind closed doors’ approach to integrity issues also fuels suspicion that the ICSS and SIGA are acting as an internal clearing house for sports integrity issues, allowing corrupt officials to amend their actions before they become public knowledge. 

Whether this is a problem in the first place depends on your point of view. It would appear that sponsors are ready to pump money into both organisations, and it is not hard to hypothesise as to why. If a sport that you financially support has a corruption issue, better that it is identified and dealt with before it becomes public knowledge, which would have a negative impact on your brand.

“The ICSS is my initiative, the liability is on me”, said ICSS President Mohammed Hanzab back in 2015. “It is true that it is 70% funded by the Qatar government and 30% is funded through projects we run. I have a plan with my team that we will be self-funded in two years. We are working with initial advisors. I have said to many people, if you can secure me the 70% from other governments, from other foundations, then I will be happy, as I will be a free man and I will not face this question wherever I go.”

It would appear that by forming SIGA, this aim has been achieved. SIGA has become a powerful pressure group signing new partners and agreeing new deals to tackle corruption in sport. The accusation that haunts the ICSS is that as it is financed by the Qatar government, its true aim is to divert attention away from human rights and corruption issues connected with the hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. 

SIGA is at arms length from this accusation, but whether it is free from it remains debatable. Like the ICSS, it would appear that SIGA has done little to address human rights and corruption issues relating to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Through Save The Dream, both organisations are involved with the Aspire Academy, which has been accused of using its network of academies in order to identify minor players from developing countries who could represent Qatar at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Again, it would appear that neither organisation has investigated these allegations, but then both could be privately investigating these issues, as Eaton suggested in 2015.

The policing of sports integrity behind closed doors will always lead to accusations that deals are being agreed for somebody’s benefit. Given that the Qatar-funded ICSS established SIGA, it is not hard to see how some might jump to a conclusion about whose benefit it is working for.

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