Opinion: Transparency, openness keys

We're only in the second month of the new year and already evidence of systemic corruption in high-profile sports has hogged the headlines.

Corruption is the dishonest or fraudulent conduct of those in power, and sport is all about power.

The revelations regarding Lance Armstrong's doping career while riding a bike suggested doping in cycling was prolific, but cycling is not an exception to the rule when it comes to the seedier side of sport.

An investigation into match-fixing in European football uncovered more than 380 suspicious games, 8 million ($NZ12.8 million) in betting profits and 2 million in bribes to players and officials.

The Australian Crime Commission's report into sports corruption mentions organised crime, match-fixing and widespread drug use and doping programmes in some sports, and the claims and counter-claims surrounding the Sonny Bill Williams and Francois Botha debacle creates a perception that not even the ''pure'' sport of boxing down under is untouched by the corruption virus.

It would be naive to believe that all forms of sport are pure pastimes, but why is the rot coming to the surface now?Some versions of sport (usually power and performance sports which attract a lot of media attention) are multimillion-dollar businesses, and are intimately connected to political, social, cultural, and private interests.

So much goes on behind closed doors, and behind the ''stage curtain'' to portray these sports as pure despite the vulgar reality.

Thus, the scene is set for corruption opportunities to thrive. Referees and players can take bribes, club owners demand kickbacks for player transfers, companies and governments can rig bids for construction/event contracts, and all individuals involved in this sport/money-making machine are willing to push the limits (doping) and take control of the outcome (fixing).

For years, this corruption has gone unchecked and unpunished, but in a world where the boundaries between private and public no longer exist, the demands for transparency and accountability have escalated.

An organisation known as Transparency International, for instance, was established in 1993 by a few individuals who decided to take a stance against corruption, and now the movement is present in more than 100 countries and they work to stir the world's collective conscience to bring about change.

Sport is one area of focus for this organisation. Corruption occurs in many aspects of society, so sport should be no exception.

Where there are big bucks to be made and exchanged, corruption won't be very far away. What is the solution? Are there any far corners of this phenomenon sport that are not corrupt?Participating in sport for pleasure rather than profit can promise a fairer game but then again, there might be a bit of friendly bribery going on between mates even if the game takes place in the back yard.

Elite sports that struggle for media attention, or that are not largely dependent on state or private funding may be less likely to turn sour, and many of the sports in the spotlight of the corruption police tend to be hyper-masculine sports such as football, rugby league and boxing.

But all is not lost. Transparency International suggests much can be done to break the ties between sport and corruption. They call for transparency and openness with regards to decisions, policies, constitutions and codes of conduct.

Easier said than done, but the same expectations for governance and management practices in political and business situations should also be expected of professional sport.

They also suggest governments, agencies and sport organisations make a collective effort to prevent or at least stem the spread of corruption. Hence the surge of revelations recently that sport is not as virtuous, honest and pure as it seems.

When asked recently if he thought New Zealand rugby was free of drugs and doping practices, Sir John Kirwan answered pragmatically that he didn't think any sport was clean.

Wise words from a man who is not afraid to admit there are chinks in his armour, as well as in sport.

Add a Comment