If FIFA and the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) were practising good governance, including fair and transparent electoral processes, would Mohammed bin Hammam realistically have expected to get away with trying to bribe 25 CFU officials for their votes during his bid for the FIFA presidency in 2012?
That rhetorical question was asked by Pierre Cornu, current chairman of the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES), based in Switzerland, on Saturday at the Teaching and Learning Centre in St Augustine.
The occasion was an open lecture by Cornu—perhaps one of the foremost experts in ethical practices and deontology (the study of duty and obligation)—put on by The University of the West Indies (St Augustine) in collaboration with FIFA and the CIES as part of the Sport Faculty’s ongoing Executive Programme in Sports Management.
Cornu noted that FIFA banned bin Hammam for life from all football activity and that as many as 19 CFU officials received varying levels of sanction for their participation in the affair. And he added that, in his opinion, love of power—which people are more than reluctant to relinquish—was behind the many scandals that have hit sporting organisations over the last 25 years or so.
Bin Hammam apart, he cited several examples from the large bodies like FIFA and the IOC, including the one that brought down former FIFA vice-president Austin ‘Jack’ Warner.
Warner’s name also came up when the discussion turned to the issue of membership levels and the inherent inequalities that creates.
Having done his homework with his Caribbean audience in mind, Cornu cited the example of the ICC (International Cricket Council), which has, he noted, 12 full members—nations who play Test cricket—and 92 associate members.
When it is time to vote on cricket matters, including changes to term limits for office, it is the voices of the full members that carry the day.
Staying in the region, Cornu also asked aloud why CONCACAF had members that belonged to both it and FIFA and others who were CONCACAF members only. It was, he admitted, puzzling to him.
The reasons, it was suggested, were two-fold. First, there is the geopolitics; several territories in the region remain mere colonial dependencies and protectorates, with the attendant citizenship and diplomatic complications.
Veterans’ Football Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago President Selby Browne offered the second reason as neo-politics: greater numbers increased the voting rights of the membership of CONCACAF as well as considerably boosting the volume of financial assistance to the region.
The person directly benefitting from all these increases, both in voting power and financial windfalls, was then CONCACAF president Warner.
Another well-known name that came up when the issues of conflicts of interest, questionable integrity and awarding of contracts was discussed was that of Ruben Acosta, who held the position of International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) president from 1984 to 2008.
Acosta allegedly left office, Cornu told his modest but enthusiastic audience, with US$33 million of FIVB money in his private bank account.
How was he able to achieve this? He made two simple rule changes designed to be of direct benefit to himself.
First, he introduced a rule that allowed for any person who signed a TV or sponsor contract on behalf of the FIVB to receive a personal bonus equal to 10% of the contract value. Quite an incentive considering the second rule: only the FIVB president was allowed to sign contracts.
The engaged and appreciative audience heard Cornu discourse on the facets of good governance, starting with a definition of what good governance in an organization should mean. He explained that one of the first things that should be clear for any enterprise should be the vision (what is to be achieved) and the strategy (how specifically to go about achieving same).
If those are not clear from the outset, he assured, it becomes very difficult later on to focus on what is supposed to be the core business.
No matter what their core business, sporting bodies face the challenge of striving to achieving true autonomy. Cornu cited two factors that make it difficult to do so: the first being the constraints of legal and regulatory frameworks irrespective of what internal regulations are drafted; and the second the fact that many of these bodies receive government subventions for their operations.
Acceptance of these subventions, Cornu pointed out, means that the government has a duty to find out how these monies are spent within the organisation and, in some cases, even to direct how they are spent.
Elaborating on the issues of conflicts of interest and the problems, real and perceived, they cause, Cornu contended that—in smaller societies—it is “unavoidable that these will appear to exist.”
However, he insisted, if organisations conducted their affairs in a truly transparent manner, allowing for properly documented processes and procedures to take place, then these would become much less of a problem.
“When open disclosure is the order of the day,” he asserted, “the integrity of the organisation and its office-holders will remain intact.”
In his wide-ranging presentation, Cornu touched on several other aspects of good governance, such as remuneration for members, distribution of resources, accounting, monitoring and auditing, term limitations for office, employee/athlete relations, equity and developmental programmes.
Scheduled to last one hour, the presentation went well past the two-hour mark, leaving precious little time for the planned audience question-and-answer session.
But there was time enough for a revealing “question” posed by Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) vice-president Joanne Salazar.
She wanted to know whether the ace presenter agreed that the knowledge gap that existed decades ago is irrelevant today; the tools and standards for good governance, she declared—answering her own question—are universally available for all to access and apply to sporting organisations.
However, Salazar added, the willpower to make these necessary changes and adhere to standards and best practices is the biggest hurdle within any environment and culture.
Nobody, not even the normally voluble Browne, ventured to say that, considering the state of local and regional sporting bodies, it won’t be any time soon that a discerning public will be able to accuse her organisation of practising good governance.
Cornu’s list of tell-tale signs for poorly governing sporting bodies—which included unclear guidelines for membership, the ad-hoc change of rules to benefit incumbents, lack of regular and freely available audited statements, uncertainty over spending and a mysterious electoral process—might sound familiar to local football fans.