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Pranjal Sharma

Pranjal Sharma has been analysing, commenting and writing on economic and development policy in India for 25 years. He has worked in print, TV and digital media in leadership positions and guided teams to interpret economic change and India’s engagement with the world

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Politics Of Policy|Cleaning Sports Globally

After the FIFA scandal, a new global initiative promises to clean up sports. Emerging markets like India and China will be impacted too

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Competitive cycling has not yet overcome the Lance Armstrong scandal that broke in 2012. An icon of international inspiration, Armstrong found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs by the US anti-doping agency. Now a new scandal over motors on bicycles threatens to further undermine the sport. International effort has led to cleaning of apex football administrative body FIFA. The new President Gianni Infantino promises a reformed FIFIA. And in countries like India, the judiciary is forcing the administrators of cricket to clean up its act after repeated scams.

In most countries sports is the great diversion from everyday life. At best, it promises the pinnacle of human talent and performance. Sadly though sports is no longer a representative of lofty human virtues. Instead sports bodies are seen as dens of embezzlement, corruption, match fixing, drugs and other illegal activities.
Cleaning up of sports bodies is becoming a global imperative. So far the clean-up efforts have been sporadic and not received adequate support from governments or sponsors. Now an effort is bringing all stakeholders together to fight corruption in sports. Early in April, the Sports Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) was launched in Madrid, Spain. It has an objective of "reforms in the integrity and governance of sport."

The effort is being driven by International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS) with support from senior representatives of many global organizations including World Bank, Deloitte, MasterCard, Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) of World Economic Forum, NewsCorp and Transparency International.

The core principles of SIGA "to promote the highest standards of fair play in the administration of sport, particularly in the areas of good governance, financial integrity and sports betting integrity."

Studies suggest that annual spend on sports events ranges between $90 billion to $145 billion. The exact figures are difficult since value of sponsorship deals is not revealed consistently. However this includes ticket sales, betting, broadcast rights, franchise sales and sponsorship.

Whispers swirl about scandals, bribery and embezzlement in most national and international sports bodies. Since many of these bodies are structured to be private entities, there is little transparency about their operations. Doping and drug has been tackled by the International Olympic Committee, but in professional sports cheating using unethical means is common. Whenever cases emerge, opaque sports bodies blame it on individuals and paper over the issues.

Accountability of sports bodies is an important issue in many countries. India and its favourite sport cricket have suffered decades of accusations of fixing matches, bribery and non-transparency decision making. The Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI), the richest body of the sport, is now under judicial scrutiny for allegations of corruption and bribery. The Supreme Court of India is forcing governance reforms with an aim to clean up the sport. However, BCCI is opposing and resisting high levels of transparency.

In many ways BCCI situation reflects the crisis that led to the action against FIFA. In the war for transparency, the sponsors play a critical role. Since a significant part of the earning for sports bodies accrue from sponsoring corporations, they have an important role in demanding transparency. Embarrassed by sports scandals affecting events they support, sponsoring companies are now putting their weight behind SIGA.

An international, integrated and intensive effort is require to clean up sports. SIGA faces a world where no sport is free of accusations. As more countries and more games adopt the professional league model, it is critical to ensure transparency in their governance. SIGA expects to expand and grow with more sponsors and government joining the effort. An effort like this must be allowed to score many goals.