Opinionista Johann Redelinghuys 16 June 2014

World Soccer: Combating corruption from the bottom up

FIFA president Sepp Blatter talks like an evangelist about the need for high moral standards and the world-changing benefits of soccer. At the same time he side-steps the accusations of corruption and of his own double standards. There is no doubt now that the Qatar World Cup scheduled for 2022 was bought by the Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam and that the decision makers were bribed.

Long gone are the good old days when sport was seen to be clean and respectable. Now, as Sepp Blatter says, “Football is not just a game, it is a multi-billion dollar business.” And where there is that kind of money, we should not be surprised that there is corruption. We are left wide-eyed and gaping when we hear that a twenty-six-year-old like Lionel Messi is now said to be worth £331 million. There is no doubt about his immense talent and dazzling skill, but the Argentine footballer now playing for Barcelona has an annual salary of €20 million. Can he be worth R293 million every year? Can he even make reasonable use of it?

But Messi is by all accounts on the clean end of the sport. At the other end FIFA’s former head of security Chris Eaton says that corruption in football is even worse than in cricket. He was referring to the 2010 England-Pakistan cricket Test at Lords that resulted in three Pakistan players being jailed for ‘fixing’ matches. In soccer, his warning has come now ahead of the Brazil World Cup, which he says is blighted with betting corruption. He thinks that organised crime will try to fix matches to make profit on the Asian betting markets.

And it is not just for the World Cup. A few years ago a major investigation into the corruption inside English football was launched. The BBC current affairs program Panorama broadcast “Undercover-Football’s Dirty Secrets”, showing agents and managers receiving bribes and money to “throw” games. It confirmed extensive bribery and corruption at all levels of the sport in England.

In the money-crazy world we live in, the mind-boggling numbers paid to top players and the potential profits for the business of soccer are just too hard to resist.

Not directly concerned with the game of soccer, but still lagging in the drag-line of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, is the on-going investigation of collusion in the building of the World Cup stadiums. Most of the big construction companies are still being targeted for the profits they are said to have made from their part in it. Always when there is the prospect of big money and lucrative tenders handed to favoured recipients it seems that there is no way of stopping it.

Let’s not even talk about corruption in politics, so let’s stay with business. In business there are all kinds of constraining forces and codes of ethical conduct that are intended to curb corruption and ensure responsible corporate governance. That is the theory. In practice it is a different game.

In a published report last week, Chris Charter, competition director of attorneys Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, said that South African executives believe widespread corruption is increasing. According to their survey it has risen from 67% to 78%. That is how many executives believe they are being forced to manage crime and corruption in their businesses.

A report by Transparency International has examined the extent of worldwide corruption and, among other findings, has established that Israel and Greece have the highest levels of corruption in the developed world. The Global Corruption Barometer in 2013 interviewed 114,000 people in 107 countries and found not only that corruption has increased everywhere but that trust, especially in government has declined substantially. They found, not surprisingly, that political parties are perceived to be the most corrupt of all.

To get the business and to make their way into the burgeoning markets especially into Africa executives are often confronted with “deals” and become subject to heavy persuasion to make payments.

For those who feel anger and moral outrage about the corruption-rot that is overwhelming every sector of society and in every corner of the world from sport to business and governments in every country, the reaction must be that we have had enough. It has to be stopped.

The question is how? What can be done? Can anything be done?

The standard and understandable response from most of us is to throw up the hands and admit defeat. The problem is too big.

But an interesting new angle comes from a country that is pervaded by corruption: India. The former president of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, calls on youth to start the journey of putting up a real fight against corruption. He says that it is the youth who can start curbing corruption in their homes. In a Defence Estates Day Lecture, he said that analysts had found that at least 30% of homes in India were corrupt. Of the “200 million houses in India, 60 million are corrupt,” he said. “The question is, will the daughter or son be bold enough to say to the father, ‘Please do not do that corrupt deed?’ Let’s start from the home,” he said. His lecture was entitled, “Creative leadership for Transforming Societies.”

Forget for a moment how Mr Kalam established the statistic of 30% being corrupt and focus on the suggestion that the youth could play a significant part in changing what is happening. Implied is the belief that if the government or any other official organisation started to fight corruption they would simply be ignored or resourceful wrong-doers will work out ways of circumnavigating the rules. If a cherished son or daughter held up the mirror and asked the father not to embark on some nefarious deal, the whole game could change. The natural instinct for a parent is to protect a child and to give them what they ask for. His message is that if ‘top-down’ in society won’t work, try ‘bottom-up’ in the family.

When Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng advocated that as a country we should return to the values of religion, which set standards of behaviour in the past, he was lambasted from every direction. It was felt that he was being prescriptive and that he was launching some kind of covert Christian initiative. It must have been well intended, but it didn’t work.

But if something radical is not done, the chances of making any progress in addressing this intractable problem are not good. Looking at it with new vision, if we followed something like the suggestion from Mr Kalam in India, the youth could become the first line of the fight to lead our society toward some kind of moral rearmament. Could the fight against corruption in the adult world be started by spreading the message and educating the youth in the schools? Could that make the difference we are looking for? Could it work? DM

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