Athletics: World's big sporting bodies can't be trusted

By Paul Hayward

Report author Dick Pound. Photo / AP
Report author Dick Pound. Photo / AP

Corruption in sport has become a box set - a sprawling car chase between the Feds and a global cast of chancers. Have you seen series six? Unmissable. Athletics goes over a cliff in flames, thanks to the World Anti-Doping Agency's two-part report on the IAAF by former agency head Dick Pound.

As the drama rages across cycling, football and athletics (with other sports sure to follow), the fan asks: "When will this end? Can it?"

Beware the catharsis theory, too. A heavily pushed line of bent organisations is that a bit of rooting out and name-shuffling will make it go away. The previous chap was a crook; the new one is a stand-up guy. Such claims can never be taken as read.

The conclusion from months of exposes is that governing bodies cannot be trusted. They cannot be relied upon to "reform" themselves and carry on without oversight by governments and law enforcement agencies.

It would be no exaggeration to say sport itself is being rescued by the police, FBI, financial prosecutors, lawyers and investigators who have uncovered perfect-circle plots that would strain the imagination of the most ambitious crime novelist.

So when people ask "When will we be free of this?", the answer is: when all the thieves are prosecuted and removed and outside monitoring renders it impossible to bribe, steal and cover up without detection'.

Strangely, drug-using athletes will rest a little easier after part two of Pound's report, because it shows many bosses to be far more venal than a 100m runner from a low-income background who decides to grab a share of the pie with help from a chemist. That, too, is beyond tolerance, but how can we expect athletes to compete clean when the people running the sport are dirty, when the sport appears to exist to provide a means to steal?

In football, the Fifa contagion leaves a similar mark. First they fix the accounts, then they steal our love for the carnivals. The 2006 and 2010 World Cups are under suspicion. The 2018 and 2022 tournaments are marooned. The presidents of Fifa and Uefa are removed from office.

For a generation, global sports events are tainted. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are the latest to be compromised, and the award of the 2021 World Athletics Championships to Eugene, Oregon - the headquarters of Nike - speaks of the Faustian pact between sponsors, television companies and pseudo-royal officials.

Many sections from the Wada report are like daggers to the soul of sport. Here is one, on the general corruption at the IAAF: "It started with the president of the organisation. It involved the treasurer of the organisation. It involved the personal counsel of the president, acting on instructions of the president. It involved two of the sons of the president. It involved the director of the medical and anti-doping department of the IAAF. The corruption was embedded in the organisation."

These days there is a tendency to be blase about some of this, as if it comes with the territory.

The growing realisation is that corruption has not just crept into the fringes of sport administration, it is built into these organisations in the form of temptation and incentive - because they are self-governing.

Every major scandal stretching back to the 1998 Festina affair in cycling has been exposed by law enforcement agencies and/or investigative journalism. The current trend began in the symbolic sense with French customs officials opening car boots and finding stashes of drugs for use on the Tour de France.

Thus the culture has shifted from laissez-faire to the point where the FBI is exposing Fifa with the kind of zeal it usually reserves for the mafia. The IAAF is being busted largely by Eliane Houlette, the head of France's financial prosecution department, while Interpol has issued an international alert for Papa Massata Diack, the son of Lamine Diack the disgraced former IAAF president. Authorities in Monaco and Singapore are also joining in.

We can all probably agree this global net-tightening is a good thing. But catharsis? A turning point? You would be unwise to bet much on it, unless governments and international agencies take the next step of making scrutiny daily, hourly, permanent.

Those who evade capture will hope to lie low, keep the old structures intact and maybe earn promotion to the job of a fellow committee "blazer" now in jail. This is the bit that has to be stopped.

And here the Wada report recommendations are too weak to make enough difference because they focus on internal changes rather than external checks.

For there to be lasting change, there need to be compulsory annual audits by governments and law enforcement for Fifa, Uefa, the IAAF and other multinational sports bodies.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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