Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, sporting and other authorities here gathered, sportsmen and women, esteemed guests, and fellow advocates for integrity in sport, I bring you the warmest felicitations from the ever-willing, progressive, endearing, and never giving up team at the ACC, including our Commissioner, Francis Ben Kaifala Esq.
It is with great honor and determination that I stand before you today to address a topic that is crucial for the preservation of the very essence of sports and the dreams and aspirations of thousands of young Sierra Leoneans who have chosen sport as a career, and which I believe is no longer perceived a mistake; ‘’Safeguarding against Corruption: Protecting the Integrity of Sport to Harness its Positive Power’’.
Sport holds a unique power to unite people across boundaries, inspire greatness, generate thousands of lucrative and sustainable employments, and foster camaraderie. Yet, when corruption infiltrates the realm of sports, it tarnishes this noble pursuit and undermines the values it stands for.
WHAT THEN IS CORRUPTION?
Corruption is a form of dishonest or unethical behavior characterized by the abuse of entrusted power or position for personal gain. It involves the misuse of authority, influence, or resources for illicit purposes, often to the detriment of others or the broader society. Corruption can take various forms, including bribery, fraud, embezzlement, nepotism, favoritism, extortion, and collusion.
At its core, corruption undermines the principles of fairness, justice, and integrity, eroding trust in institutions, distorting economic opportunities, and impeding social progress. It thrives in environments where accountability mechanisms are weak, regulatory frameworks are inadequate, and there is a lack of transparency and oversight. Corruption can occur in both public and private sectors, affecting governments, businesses, organizations, and individuals alike.
The integrity of sport is not merely a matter of fair play; it is the bedrock upon which the entire edifice of sportsmanship stands. Without integrity in the entire team of stakeholders including the players/athletes, coaches, referees, clubs and team owners, fans, financial institutions, including betting and gaming businesses, fans and supporters, etc, should and must uphold the watchword of ‘’INTEGRITY’’ at all time. Corruption erodes this foundation, sowing seeds of doubt and disillusionment among athletes, fans, and stakeholders alike. It distorts competition, undermines trust, and robs deserving individuals and teams of their rightful achievements. When this happens in sports for instance, talents are destroyed, and opportunities and resources are mismanaged, making it hard for sportsmen and women to thrive and succeed in their careers. This has to stop and we have what it takes to stop it.
WHAT IS INTEGRITY?
Integrity is the quality of being honest, and having strong moral principles, adhering to what is right even when no one is watching. It encompasses consistency in actions, sincerity in intentions, and steadfastness in upholding ethical values.
Oprah Winfrey, an American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and media proprietor, best known for her talk show, ‘’The Oprah Winfrey Show’’ stated that "Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody's going to know whether you did it or not."
This quote emphasizes that true integrity is demonstrated not by the fear of punishment or the desire for recognition by your superiors or colleagues, but by an innate commitment to doing what is morally upright,and generally expected of you, regardless of external influences or rewards. It underscores the idea that integrity is a personal choice, a reflection of one's character, and a cornerstone of trustworthiness and respectability.
We have witnessed the devastating consequences of corruption in sports far too often. From doping scandals that tarnish the purity of athletic achievement to match-fixing schemes that undermine the very essence of fair play, the specter of corruption looms large, casting a dark shadow over the world of sports.
But let us be clear: Corruption in sports is not merely a problem to be acknowledged; it is a challenge to be confronted head-on with unwavering resolve and determination to eradicate it. The stakes are too high, and the consequences of corruption on sports are far too grave to simply turn a blind eye or sweep under the rug.
HISTORIC PERSPECTIVES TO CORRUPTION IN SPORTS
Corruption in sports is not a new phenomenon. Fraudulent activities in the running of sports organizations and competitions have been documented from the times of the ancient Olympic Games through to the modern day. What has shifted however is the scale and complexity of the crime.
Over the past two decades, criminal activities in the sporting world have substantially increased. Globalization has played a role, as have factors such as the huge influx of money going into sports, the rapid growth of legal and illegal sports betting, and a changing technological landscape that has transformed the way in which sport is played and consumed today the world over.
These factors and others not listed here have presented criminal networks and gangs with new opportunities and avenues to exploit sport for illicit profit.
To highlight this issue, a special event was held at the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in December of 2021, where a major new report on the issue of corruption in sports and how to address it was also showcased. Joined by a broad grouping of government officials, international organizations, and sporting bodies, the event offered insight into crime and corruption in sports and highlighted the urgent need for a unified response to counter this issue and steam its effects.
At that event, the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Director for Treaty Affairs, John Brandolino famously stated: “When we consider sport, our natural thought goes to its central, positive role in our lives; there is, however, a darker side of the sport, one which organized criminal groups have infiltrated and which is impacted by vast levels of corruption.”
The 2021 UNODC’s report revealed that the manipulation of sports competitions is a complex threat to the integrity of sports. With up to $1.7 trillion estimated to be wagered on illicit betting markets each year, it is a huge business for organized criminal groups.
Illustrating for the first time the scale, scope, and complexity of corruption and criminal networks in national and international sports, the Global Report offers a playbook to effectively tackle these issues by setting out a range of concrete policy considerations.
This new publication addresses 10 specific themes, ranging from illegal betting, competition manipulation, and abuse in sport, to existing initiatives to tackle this problem, reporting wrongdoing, and how legal frameworks can be applied to prevent and fight corruption in sport.
Ultimately, it identifies three crucial areas of action:
First, the need to strengthen legal, policy, and institutional frameworks to counter corruption and crime in sports, with a focus on major sports events, competition manipulation, illegal betting, and the involvement of organized crime.
Second, the importance of enhancing understanding of and capacities to tackle corruption and crime in sports through further research and analysis.
Third, the need for increased cooperation, and exchange of information and good practices among all stakeholders, mainly from the governmental and the sporting worlds.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE FORMS OF CORRUPTION IN SPORTS?
Corruption in sports, unfortunately, is not confined to any one region or country; it is a global phenomenon that has reared its ugly head in various forms across the world. Sierra Leone, like many other countries, has faced its share of challenges related to corruption in sports, though specific instances may vary in scale and scope. Here are some classic instances of corruption in sports, both in Sierra Leone, Africa, and globally:
Match-fixing scandals: Match-fixing is a prevalent form of corruption in sports worldwide. While specific instances in Sierra Leone may not have gained as much international attention, Africa has seen several cases involving football, where players, coaches, or officials manipulate the outcome of matches for financial gain.
The lack of proper governance and oversight in some African football leagues has contributed to the proliferation of match-fixing.
Misappropriation of funds:Corruption often manifests through the mismanagement or embezzlement of funds intended for sports development. In Sierra Leone and other African countries, there have been cases where funds allocated for sports infrastructure, training programs, or athlete support have been siphoned off by corrupt officials or administrators, hindering the growth and development of sports at all levels.
Bribery and vote-buying in sports governance: Corruption within sports governance structures is another significant issue. Instances of bribery and vote-buying during elections for sports federations (football associations) or committees have been reported in Sierra Leone, other African nations, and the world at large, undermining the democratic process and perpetuating the cycle of corruption within sports administration.
In the recent past, almost every Doping scandals: While not exclusive to Sierra Leone or Africa, doping scandals have rocked the world of sports on numerous occasions. Athletes across the globe have been implicated in doping schemes, seeking unfair advantages through the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The lack of effective anti-doping measures and enforcement mechanisms in some African countries has made them vulnerable to doping-related corruption.
Influence peddling and nepotism:Nepotism and favoritism in team selection, coaching appointments, or sponsorship deals can also be forms of corruption in sports. In Sierra Leone and elsewhere, instances of individuals using their influence or connections to secure positions or opportunities within sports organizations, often at the expense of merit-based decision-making, have been reported.
Corruption in sports infrastructure projects: Construction projects related to sports infrastructure, such as stadiums or training facilities, have sometimes been marred by corruption. Cases of inflated contracts, kickbacks, and shoddy workmanship have been reported in Sierra Leone and other African countries, depriving athletes and communities of essential facilities and resources.
These instances and others not stated here for want of time highlight the pervasive nature of corruption in sports, both in Sierra Leone, Africa and around the world.
Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts from governments, sports federations, civil society organizations, and the international community to implement stringent anti-corruption measures, promote transparency and accountability, and uphold the integrity of sports at all levels.
While sport has the power to inspire and unite, corruption and crime threaten to undermine its positive contribution to our lives. Particularly when linked to abuse and exploitation of vulnerable groups and youth, the impact has a devastating effect on societies.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO SAFEGUARD AGAINST CORRUPTION AND PROTECT THE INTEGRITY OF SPORTS?
It begins with an unwavering, uncompromising, and never-ending commitment to transparency, accountability, and ethical conduct at every level of the sporting ecosystem. From grassroots sports organizationsto national and international governing bodies, ‘’INTEGRITY’’must be more than just a buzzword; it must be a guiding principle that informs every decision and action.
We must also strengthen our legal and regulatory frameworks and enforcement mechanisms to deter and punish those who seek to corrupt the purity of sport for their selfish gains.
This means robust anti-corruption measures, rigorous monitoring and oversight, and swift and severe penalties for those found guilty of wrongdoing in sports must be our priority.
But perhaps most importantly, ‘’safeguarding against corruption requires a collective effort from all stakeholders involved in sports, including the athletes, coaches, administrators, officials, sponsors, and fans alike’’. We must all be vigilant guardians of the integrity of sport, speaking out against corruption wherever and whenever we encounter it, and standing united in our commitment to uphold the values that make sport great.
Make no mistake: the fight against corruption in sports will not be easy, and it will not happen overnight. But if we remain steadfast in our determination, if we hold fast to our principles, and if we stand together as one global community united in our love for sport, then I am confident that we can overcome this challenge and harness the positive power of sport to inspire future generations and build a better world for all.
The Presidents of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), two key partners for UNODC, both pointed to this issue of collaboration in the UNODC 2021 meeting.
“Only in partnership can we effectively tackle criminal activities like corruption in sport. Only together can we strengthen the credibility and integrity of sport,” noted IOC President, Thomas Bach.
“Safeguarding the integrity of sport is a team effort, in this context our cooperation with UNODC is key and the new Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two organizations sends a strong message of our shared determination to fight against corruption in sport.”
Gianni Infantino, President of FIFA, shared a similar sentiment: “We must remain vigilant and united to defend our sport and our society (from corruption). Our cooperation with UNODC is vital. We stand on our joint mission to safeguard sport from corruption. Unity is key because like you we believe together everyone wins.”
I THANK YOU!!!
©️ Public Relations Unit, ACC