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Sent Off! (But Dirty Tactics Continue)

World Cup Reminders for Corruption Fighters and What Open Government Might Offer in Return

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© 2018 Marco VerchFlickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

While spending more time than I’d like to admit watching the World Cup this past week (but less than my eight-year-old son), I’ve also been reading Ken Basinger’s Red Card. Despite the distractions of the beautiful game on the pitch, Basinger offers a timely reminder of the ugly reality off it.  Bribes? Money laundering? Tax avoidance? It’s all there. His book is an easy read – more like a thriller than traditional exposé. However, it offers some timely reminders for those interested in the fight against corruption.

  1. Don’t neglect tax compliance – resourcing the basics of tax oversight matters; the FIFA investigation built off a US tax official review of personal tax returns
  2. Perseverance is essential – the investigation took years of patient work to assemble the case
  3. Media roles are critical at the right time – journalists brought a welcome spotlight and pressure when the scandal broke
  4. Even as bad apples fall, the tree can still be rotting – despite prompting prosecutions and resignations all the way to the very top, the risk is that the incentives for corruption remain.

It’s this last point that will probably resonate most with seasoned anti-corruption campaigners. While investigative work (including fruitful collaborations among law enforcement and media/CSOs) can pay huge dividends in rooting out corrupt individuals, it is much harder to get systemic change. The FIFA investigation was one of the largest in history, but has it spurred the level of reform to clean up the sport for good? The signs are not that encouraging – certainly, there was no reversal of the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup, despite the allegations of bribery in the award process. A change at the top is no guarantee of a cultural shift.

Perhaps sports administrators should borrow from the transparency and accountability community. Why not Open Contracting for the 2030 World Cup? Open and participatory budgeting in the allocation of FIFA funds among its regional bodies?  More suggestions for FIFA, welcome…