‘Too much corruption in sport’

David M Luna

Increased international cooperation to investigate and prosecute criminals in sports and preventing access by kleptocrats to financial systems are among the keys to fighting corruption in sports.

Former US diplomat David M. Luna stressed the infiltration of organised crime in sports continues to be problematic as illicit networks are actively involved in doping, match-fixing, money-laundering and blackmail, enabling them to exploit and compromise officials.

“Given that hundreds of billions of dollars in illegally concealed proceeds are moving through our financial system and our economy across numerous industries, the enforcement challenge is monumental,” Luna said.

“We must empower our law enforcement to target organised criminals, kleptocrats, and illicit syndicates who infiltrate sports and exploit our laws and corrupt our institutions, markets, and communities, hide their criminally-derived assets, and use their dirty money to finance even more security threats.

“And yes, international cooperation and public-private partnerships are indispensable for collective action.”

The former Chair of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Countering Illicit Trade and US State Department senior director said this during the International Conference on Sports Integrity: International Cooperation – Opening the Opacity Window to Criminal Investigation at the National Judiciary Police headquarters in Lisboa, Portugal on June 6. Luna is currently the president and chief executive officer of Washington DC-based Luna Global Networks & Convergence Strategies.

He also highlighted corruption and bribery cases in sports in recent times. They include:

  • A major Qatari international sports broadcasting company charged in France with suspected bribery related to track and field world championships.
  • In Afghanistan, numerous officials from the national football federation were suspended in 2018 after public allegations that they had sexually abused female players.

He added corruption and bribery episodes have surfaced in cricket, rugby, boxing and even sumo wrestling.

“There is too much corruption in sport. Fans deserve better, they deserve fair play in sport.”

“Moreover, corruption in sport when it converges with other forms of corruption in our society, begins to decay the pillars of integrity across our communities. We need immediate, direct, and coordinated action across borders: kinetic, operational, and enduring actions that can help to convert our political will to clean up sport and to reform it,” he added.

Luna said an effective anti-corruption strategy must include:

  • prevention;
  • accountability: oversight, monitoring and compliance measures;
  • independent investigations, robust enforcement and effective sanctioning;
  • building resiliency and “cultures of integrity”; and
  • educational awareness campaigns on the harms of corruption.

“Corruption was always one of the most difficult areas of my diplomatic work. Many government officials would say the right things about how they were against corruption or comment on how they were committed to fight it, or even that they understood how pernicious the threat could be to their own economic development and security agendas.

“When it came to actually implementing the necessary reforms and enforcing the laws necessary to eradicate it, more often than not, anti-corruption commitments often languished until the next election or new leaders gave it renewed attention.”

He added for real and enduring progress, people need to see the culture of corruption change over time, citing Colombia, Chile, Singapore, and Hong Kong as examples of nations where authorities launched criminal investigations to make a “discernible difference”.

“Otherwise, they quickly grow disillusioned that government cannot eradicate corruption, and that government can neither do good nor help them.”

He said corruption saps vital energies from efforts to promote innovation, entrepreneurship, and competitiveness while impeding economic growth and foreign investment.

“When kleptocrats line their own pockets, they squander their responsibility to invest in the future of their people,” he added.

Others at the session were assistant to Portugal’s member at EUROJUST Jose Luis Ferreira Trindade, Global Sport Policy director and former member of the European Parliament Emma McClarkin. Jose Tavares, a councillor judge and Court of Auditors director-general, played moderator. The event was hosted by the Sport Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) in cooperation with the Portugese Judicial and Judiciary Authority, the National Olympic Committee of Portugal, the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) INSIGHT, and stakeholders within the Portuguese government.

ICSS Director, Anti-Corruption Operations and Transparency, Fred Lord was also present as he joined another panel discussion on ‘Sport Betting: Investigation, Monitoring and Information Sharing’.

Luna summarised his speech saying it was instrumental for various parties to work together through synergies and partnerships to promote the highest standards and values of honest governance and a “vision of a fair and clean future for sport”.

“The purity in sport and the fair play in the administration of sport are noble ideals that should not be corrupted or tainted by criminal influences. Safeguarding the integrity of sport against corruption and criminality is our noble mission,” he added.