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Safeguarding Against Corruption In The Context Of Sporting And Other Major Public Events

Note:  Professor Juliet Sorensen (Northwestern University School of Law) and Northwestern Law students Akane Tsuruta and Jessica Dwinell are attending the Fifth Conference of the State Parties (CoSP) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in Panama City, Panama.  See here for a live feed of the States Parties’ discussions.

This post regarding the proceedings is by Jessica Dwinell.

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News broke yesterday that oilfield services company Weatherford International agreed to pay $253 million to settle federal charges in the United States, including FCPA charges in which an allegation by the SEC was that Weatherford funded a trip to the 2006 World Cup for two officials from a state-owned Algerian company. At the same time, members of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Global Alliance for Integrity in Sports and the OECD were gathering at the fifth CoSP to the UNCAC to present on the importance of safeguarding against corruption in the context of sporting events.

As Nicola Bonucci (Director for Legal Affairs of the OECD) explained, “sport events are sport, but sport is also a . . . business,” and a highly lucrative one at that. Unfortunately, though hosting public and sporting events can serve as a great honor for a country, many major events also breed corruption.

Alexey Kronov (the Head of the Expert Group on Anti-Corruption for the Department of Public Administration and Russian G20 expert) outlined three factors that create the corruption-prone environment surrounding major sporting events. First, countries or regions who want to host events often feel pressure to “overcome other bidders,” a pressure which can lead to bribe offers or solicitation. Second, after winning a bid, the host country controls significant funds to build infrastructure, creating numerous opportunities for public abuse for personal gain during the procurement process. Third, sporting events are unique in that all projects must be completed by a specified time; where the opening of a transnational tunnel can be delayed, the start of the World Cup games cannot. The Executive Summary to the UNODC report, “A Strategy for Safeguarding against Corruption in Major Public Events,” similarly suggests that the high risk of corruption “is largely because such events involve significant resources and large amounts of funds as well as complex logistical arrangements within very tight timeframes.”

Representatives from Russia (set to host the Winter Olympics in 2014) and Brazil (the host of the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympic games in 2016) provided information on measures their respective governments have taken to prevent corruption surrounding their upcoming major events, including efforts to undertake extensive risk assessments, audit event budgets and project proposals to ensure accurate price projections and quality designs, creation a public website detailing project expenditures to increase transparency, and conduct periodic on-site visits.

Such measures are a step in the right direction; however, Mr. Bonucci suggested several additional steps that could further decrease corruption in sports. For instance, Mr. Bonucci stressed the need for a multi-stakeholder approach, an approach of utmost importance given the constant interaction between government officials and private companies during the procurement process. Further, he recommended that the global community establish clear international standards, which include provisions detailing conflict of interest disclosure requirements, and complete transparency.

Olajobi Makinwa (Head of the Transparency & Anti-Corruption Initiatives for the UN Global Compact) stated that “it is necessary to keep sports clean because people look up to sports heroes.” Sports offer hope, break down barriers and provide role models. Sporting events can also prove crucial for morale building. A mishandling of funds, however, can quickly derail any positive advances. Though further research must be done, transparency, multi-national and multi-stakeholder approaches appear key to combating corruption in the context of sporting events.

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