In the last decade,
elite sport has lost
much of its appeal
and educational value.
The sports system is no longer primarily associated with its central promise of bringing people together to compete on a level playing field, but perceived as a rather toxic field where all sorts of corruption can thrive:
bribery and embezzlement, money laundering, ticket fraud, vote buying, vote rigging, abuse of power, and abuse of (child-)athletes or match-fixing.
None of this is new, but a shift in public awareness has taken place:
Rather than to push blame onto individuals (such as athletes caught in a doping test)
the crises are now being attributed to the top-administration, and the way it runs sport.
Elite athletes increasingly join the criticism, banding together in independent associations, because they feel exploited in an opaque system of which they are supposedly the heart.
Frequently enough, sports officials give rise to the assumption, that they are eying the market, worth around €350+ billion in 2021 globally, much more than they care about fair scores, let alone universal human rights. Sports officials have associated themselves with autocrats around the globe, seen as a mutually beneficial business, and acted as enablers for what is called “grand corruption” by Transparency International.
Corruption in sport is found where individuals act immorally, illegally or unethically with the aim of political influence, financial or other personal gain thus deliberately distorting sporting events or competitions.
This is possible in sport as unlike in all other spheres, safe for the church, a sort of parallel society with its own structures and lack of rule of law exists.
Corruption in sport can thrive because sport effortlessly crosses borders, as do its criminals, with all the detriments to law enforcement when it comes to transnational jurisdiction. Even the dedicated US prosecutors in the FIFA corruption scandal have yet to uncover who exactly from Russia and Qatar paid the millions for them becoming hosts of FIFA World Cups in 2018 and 2022.
But even more sports corruption thrives on the way officials are allowed to operate:
They are accountable to no one.
They are entitled to completely regulate their sports (while promoting them as businesses to earn billions), on the basis of an accepted autonomy.
That is, without oversight.
And they hold an almost mystical sway over policymakers around the globe, because they control an area so many people care about.
The testimonies of abused athletes who finally came forward illustrate best what is wrong with sports:
Association trumps protection.
Sports organizations operate as patronage networks, a sign of institutionalized corruption that itself encourages corruption – by fostering an environment where perpetrators feel they can act with impunity.
The pillow of impunity is the lack of independence of sports’ own judiciary.
Additional factors hinder the fight against corruption: Sports organizations and their disciplinary bodies lack sufficient powers to gather evidence, and often lack resources and expertise to deal with highly complex matters, whether because of a transnational dimension or because of particular challenges such as those posed by abuse cases.