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Corruption in sports and implications for governance in the region

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Fri May 10, 2013

International football has been very much in the news these past few weeks, and not always for good reasons. The governing body of world football, FIFA, has been becoming more and more enmeshed in a cesspool of corruption exposés, with particular focus on matters concerning the shenanigans of former leaders of the western hemisphere affiliate, CONCACAF. It does not reflect well on the governance of global football.{{more}}

It must have been somewhat of a relief therefore, for the FIFA leadership to have international attention diverted this week, even if temporarily, by the shock retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, the long-standing manager of perhaps the world’s best-known club, Manchester United. His iconic status has been earned by a phenomenal record of success during his 26-year reign at the British club. Such has been the achievements of Sir Alex and “Man U”, as the club is fondly called, that his resignation has not only dominated the sports news, but has also been prominent in international news coverage, and even in global financial circles. His boots are enormous ones for any successor to fill.

While Ferguson’s departure, fortunately all above-board, may have given FIFA leaders a brief respite, it will in no way mask the shame that has enveloped the governance of world football. The recent exposures in CONCACAF about the activities of former FIFA Vice-president, Jack Warner and his sidekick, the ex-General Secretary of the hemispheric body, “Chuck” Blazer, represent a serious indictment on the way the football leadership has been plundering the resources of the world’s most popular sport.

It gives FIFA an image of being riddled with corruption, at its highest levels and further damages the reputation of international sporting administrators. There have been serious wrongdoings as well in the International Olympic Committee, which governs Olympic sports; cycling, where cheating and drug-taking are rife, and cricket with proven cases of match-fixing. It is clear that the lure of money has caused too many to succumb to illegal means of accumulation and tarnished the image of international sport.

In the case of the Caribbean, a major part of CONCACAF, it has regrettably gone beyond football and sport to intrude into the realm of politics and governance at the national level. The Caribbean has struggled hard to establish itself in international football. Small countries with little or limited resources find it difficult to compete in global sport where “big money” is more and more influential. Ironically, our separate identities have counted in our favour, giving us clout and influence in regional and global bodies because of the multiplicity of our votes. It has enabled administrators like the currently embattled Jack Warner to manipulate skilfully, to put the Caribbean on the global map.

There is no doubt that Warner’s forceful personality and drive helped to propel football in the Caribbean and his native Trinidad and Tobago on a forward path. But there has been a downside of it, the murky details of which are now being revealed. Worse, Warner’s ambitions led him to get involved in politics in his homeland at the highest level. Not only did he become a minister in the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration, but he was regarded as the virtual “power behind the throne”, considered almost “untouchable”.

When the corruption scandals became public therefore, it was not just football which suffered but the very issue of governance in Trinidad and Tobago, and, by extension, the Caribbean itself. It does not speak well for the region or any nation to have one of the highest-ranking officials embroiled in such allegations of corruption. If a leading minister in any government is implicated in misappropriation of funds, bribery and vote-rigging in an admittedly non-state body, what conclusions can one draw from his involvement at the political level, especially when such activities have long been among the more nefarious aspects of our elections?

It may be football and Warner, FIFA, CONCACAF and Trinidad and Tobago, but the implications are far-reaching for the entire Caribbean and our systems of governance. We are still very vulnerable and open to manipulation by unscrupulous elements, too prone to ignore sources of wealth as long as “droppings” come our way. The Jack Warner saga should be enough to jolt us out of our complacency, to instil a greater awareness of the need for vigilance, transparency and accountability, and to find and implement measures to guard against the undermining of our governance systems.

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