It’s not just Russia: Britain helped create this corruption in sport – The Guardian

The Russians will go to Rio next year. Whatever decision emerges from the meeting of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) on Friday, the Russians will go to the 2016 Olympics. If sporting stars cheat they are banned. If sporting countries cheat they should be banned. But when everyone cheats, what to do? The answer is to panic, lie and then cover your tracks.

If there’s one thing the Russians know about international sport, it is where others have hidden their skeletons. Shut out the Russians and the whole murky edifice might come crashing down. Britain’s Lord Coe, new president of the IAAF, based in that well-known athletics centre, Monaco, said he knew nothing about the doping saga. Indeed, he claimed it was all got up by the press, until the press and the IAAF’s own investigator, Dick Pound, showed otherwise.

Coe has spent eight years as IAAF vice-president under a man he calls his “spiritual” master, Lamine Diack, who’s now being investigated by the police for massive corruption. And Coe knew nothing about it? If he didn’t know, then he ought to have. As a well-paid consultant to Nike and practised hotel lobby schmoozer, can he be the man to cleanse these Augean stables?

The Olympics, cycling, ice-skating, baseball, football and athletics have all been afflicted by doping and/or financial scandals over the years. Most trouble has emanated from international bodies supposedly overseeing and policing these sports. In a clear conflict of interest, they also stage and derive income from the festivals of chauvinism that now pass for world sports competitions. Hence the outrageous cost of Athens, Beijing, London, South Africa and now Rio.

These extravaganzas are promoted by a cosmopolitan elite of bureaucrats, whipping up hysteria over who will “win” the right to be host. In 2005, Britain had to pay a £500,000 “fee” to the International Olympic Committee just to be allowed to bid (it forgot to add the bribes). Non-government bids are now banned, for fear of parsimony. The only modern Olympiad not to make money (for the IOC) was when no government stepped forward and the games went private, in Los Angeles 1984.

Thus politicised, sports are de facto nationalised, and funded to win. Woe betide failure. British swimmers were penalised financially by David Cameron for poor performance in 2012, a gesture redolent of a crude dictatorship. Small wonder the pressure to cheat is overwhelming, and the cheating, as in Russia and other as yet unnamed states, can also be “nationalised”.

Any journalist acquainted with professional sport over the past half century has known about drugs. We were told the Ben Johnson scandal at the 1988 Olympics would put a stop to doping. Nothing put a stop to it. The money and prestige is too great. In the case of soccer’s Fifa, it was clear for decades that Sepp Blatter’s operation was rotten to the core. A lone British journalist, Andrew Jennings, struggled to expose the IOC and Fifa’s Blatter, to the silence or ridicule of British representatives on both bodies.

Europe’s sporting quangos, police and most of its media turned a blind eye to these goings-on. Sport is the holy mother church of the age. Only when the BBC and Sunday Times produced incontrovertible evidence of wrong-doing at Fifa did England’s Football Association start whingeing.

But football’s bosses would not do the honourable thing and withdraw. There was too much money, perks and national glory at stake. No one lifted a finger until an American public attorney this year blew the whistle on Europe’s favourite sport.

The IOC, now in the pocket of a few big contractors and television networks, is solely concerned with raising the costs and revenue of each successive Olympics. Anyone who doubts this should read Andrew Zimbalist’s book, Circus Maximus. It tells how a tiny, unaccountable cartel impoverished one world city after another, enthusiastically supported by grovelling national politicians – with Britain in the lead.

Back in the 1990s as the stink began to rise over this swamp, Britain should have had led a walkout. Instead its representatives, laden with royal patronage, were pampered, conned and invited not to look too closely at the books. They got luxury trips and free tickets. Yet they were supposedly running world sports. They must have read the cuttings. They cannot plead ignorance. If the humblest journalist knew, they knew.

The root issue is our old friend, accountability. International sport is a potent cocktail of money, fame and no one in charge. Were this run as show business, which is what it really is, nothing would matter. In show business the government is not involved and risk is taken by private individuals. In today’s international sport, governments are all over it. Taxpayers don’t just take the risk, they pay.

There has to be a new framework of governance, properly beholden to some elected or openly representative body. Self-selection, self-policing, self-auditing and self-perpetuation are the short route to corruption. But such reform will never take place as long as nation states kowtow and never resign.

Last year the people of Brazil, saddled by their rulers with both the World Cup and the Olympics, took to the streets in violent protest. This had not the slightest effect on Fifa and the IOC. Their inspectors flicked the dust from their Guccis and told the Brazilians to spend even more – and get the peasants to shut up.

Britain is master appeaser of this nonsense. It inflated its 2012 Olympics budget from £3bn to £9bn – imposing this baseline cost of a fortnight’s sport on the poor of Rio. It claimed this would be fine as Britain “made £13bn” from the event. In reality that was the probable loss. England then bid to host the 2018 World Cup, when it had already been given to Russia. Vladimir Putin did not even show up at the declaration. So much for English intelligence.

Britain will endure any humiliation to strut any “world stage” going. Its politicians want to be seen to win, and bask in reflected glory. The empire dies hard. Sport ranks with nuclear weapons and opera houses as a vital national interest – in prestige. There nothing wrong with boosting the nation’s pride, were it not floated on a mire of venality and corruption.


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