by Evert-Jan Lammers
If you are not a sponsor, an athlete or a gambler you probably wouldn’t know that the largest running event in Europe took place last weekend in Brussels. But you would know of the coming-up European football championship and the Olympic games. What you should know is that in most sports, big and small, international and local, there is match fixing, doping of athletes, and vote-buying (in bidding). The world of sports is infected. If only we could smell it.
Society’s response to incidents is confused. This year Nestlé withdrew sponsorship from the IAAF athletics programme because of corruption issues, although it had continued sponsoring the Tour de France when doping affaires were peeking. New insights are necessary. What can we do?
As always, change starts after serious incidents, creating awareness, followed by training and education to further develop this. In sport it is particularly important to start awareness and education at an early age, at schools and in sports clubs. A child can understand that corruption in sport is unfair and therefore unacceptable. First, teachers and trainers must be informed. For that to happen, school boards and club management must be aware. Today we are still working at the level of federal government and sport federations. Lower levels are hardly alerted.
Once we have convinced the youngsters, can we root-out corruption in sports? No, says Dr. Jacques Rogge, former President of the International Olympic Committee, because illegal betting and doping are in the hands of organized crime and hard to exterminate. But we can make it much more difficult for them.
The Nestlé example may show that sponsors are becoming aware of the issue. Governance in sport is an important prerequisite for safe sponsor contracts. Transparency International has issued a Report ranking sport federations in order of risk governance. Sponsors can become important drivers for change. Let’s hope they will.
Most companies are sport sponsors somehow, of athletes, clubs or events. Their risk assessments will include reputational risk, but not corruption risk in sponsoring, as this is considered immaterial in the corporate world. As the world of sports now appears to be infected by corruption, companies should start taking this seriously. Annual risk assessments address the risk of corruption in sport because of the sponsoring. Focus must be on effective governance systems rather than on handling incidents.
The organizers of the 20km of Brussels failed to perform a due diligence on Eddy Merckx, who had been invited to pull the trigger at the start. Merckx is subject of a corruption investigation. Hundreds of companies were sponsors at the event and Transparency International participated at the race with its team “Zero corruption in sport”. Quite embarrassing.
Evert-Jan Lammers is partner at EBBEN Partners and board member at Transparency International Belgium.