Athletes must drive change in push to improve sports integrity, says Louis Saha

Former French international Louis Saha says it is too late to stop companies like Public Investment Funds (PIF) of Saudi Arabia from coming into football.

He suggests the only way to combat these takeovers is to ensure that the money is used correctly, and regulating salaries is one way to do it.

PIF’s recent acquisition of Newcastle drew flak as many see it as a form of ‘sports washing’ by the Saudi regime. Saha explains the problem goes back to the 1990s when the English Premier League became a huge attraction.

“It began when billionaires started coming into the (English) game in the 1990s. How can we now backtrack and say, ‘Oh no, this formula doesn’t work.’? You see how successful the Premier League is?” said Saha, a Sport Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) Champion and SIGA Europe Advisory Board member.

“Fans, anywhere in the world, dream of having a billionaire coming in and spending his money. Their dream investment will bring the best players. No one can stop that.

“Integrity is about using the money correctly, so there is no money laundering, or something like it. The only thing you can do is to try to regulate the salaries in some way.”

He added the Chinese market, and many others around the globe, is a big attraction for football, and the world is changing drastically.

“Can you stop those possible investments from those countries? Integrity is about trying to do the right thing,” the former Everton and Manchester United player told several SIGA permanent media partners, including Twentytwo13, recently.

“We, as an organisation, can add pressure on how to make it cleaner, to protect the value of our sports.”

Asked how athletes can implement sport integrity standards, Saha said education and knowledge are important tools.

“Athletes must use their experience to highlight the things that need to be improved,” said Saha.

“If we do not know how the mechanics of this industry works, we cannot change anything. You cannot advocate for anything or back up the people who are trying to change things.

“We have seen so many things happening, and players are not consulted. If we come together, we could be a real strength, and this is why I am conscious that players start to understand and become more educated.”

He said athletes needed to change the mentality of those who have the power, and urged them to talk less, and do more.

Saha also said there is room for improvement for clubs and sports organisations to enhance sports integrity.

“They are doing great marketing, but the result is not very efficient. We need to push all these people, so it is still a process of organisation, getting together, having the strength of partners, the sponsors, the investors… that can put ourselves in a better position to move things forward.

“There is a lot of work to do because nobody is going to give up their seats. We want our sport to be clean. It is that simple.

“Some like to use the word integrity, but they do not like to promote it. That is where the work of SIGA is pivotal, and I am proud to be a champion and on the board of SIGA Europe,” he added.