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OpEd - Crisis talks for sports leaders

9 November 2015

ATR: When leaders of the world’s major sport federations gather this week in Lausanne they face a crisis only they can undo.

The annual SportAccord IF Forum comes at a time when a cancer of corruption appears to have been exposed at the two biggest and most influential federations, FIFA and the IAAF.

Money is at the root of it all, whether bribes to conceal drug tests or to secure World Cup votes. This muck and mire of allegations could easily ooze to other sports, trapping all, even if the only sin is guilt by association.

There’s not a lot that other federations can do to fix things at football or athletics. But they can do everything about preventing their own sports from falling into the integrity gap that opens with bad governance and corruption. Most federations play by the rules, but there are likely other scandals waiting to come to life. Anybody who has followed the world of Olympism for a while has seen the clouds building over football and athletics as well as scandal and suspicions with other federations, Olympic and non-.

The SportAccord IF Forum comes at a moment when the world’s sport federations would be wise to make sure their houses are in order. UIPM, the fed for modern pentathlon, just this weekend adopted reforms aimed at good governance and ethical conduct.

If leading by example is still possible, new IAAF President Sebastian Coe is in a prime position to show how to attack the disease and win. Coe will deserve a third gold medal if he succeeds in creating a new IAAF that for the first time in many years could be rid of corrupt governance. On Monday he will discover just how deep a hole he’ll have to fill when the WADA Independent Commission releases its report on allegations that bribery has kept secret positive doping tests of athletes from Russia.

For FIFA, the toll of criminality in its leadership will be harder to repair, so deeply ingrained was the culture of deception through at least the past two presidencies. Unlike IAAF, which has Seb Coe as a knight on a steed to save the kingdom, the hero for FIFA hasn’t appeared. The crop of seven candidates certified for the FIFA presidency is an uninspired lot, none of whom seem to possess the force of personality to get the job done.

The refrain of Olympic Agenda 2020 has been sung repeatedly for the two years of the Thomas Bach presidency as the way to the future for the IOC and Olympic Movement. It’s a fountain of good ideas and principles, all of which have their place. But amidst the call for change in the way Olympic bids are handled or the launch of an Olympic Channel or the need to involve more young people in sport, the scandals wracking football and athletics are proof that good governance is an Olympic Agenda 2020 must-do, not an option.

The scandals show what happens when evil takes the helm of the ship of sport. Public trust is endangered with the loss of integrity. The field of play becomes a courtroom, not a pitch.

Whether introducing stylish new sports or consummate use of digital platforms, none of the Olympic Agenda 2020 objectives will amount to anything without exemplary governance.

Who wants to join a movement with inept or corrupt leadership at its core?

A final observation. What the international federations have to say this week during their forum won’t be publicly discernable. As has been the case for nearly all the IF forums, the media is excluded in the interest of promoting candid discussion among the federation leaders. Last year we recall the forum was open and the sun still rose the next morning in Lausanne. Winning public confidence means nothing to hide.

Written by Around The Ring Editor Ed Hula

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