Is there a cure for sports?

It’s the political news that wants it: this column is based on Westminster. But it is towards Zurich that she is on her way.

The United Kingdom is going through strange and unprecedented times. A prime minister denied by his own party, engulfed in countless scandals, more unpopular than ever, has announced that he will leave the conservative leadership. However, Boris Johnson has not submitted his resignation. At no point did he utter that word. And, barring a dramatic change, Boris Johnson will remain prime minister until the Conservatives elect a new leader — a process that will take months. So the man who fell will take on his own interim. It’s unlikely, but that’s the way it is.

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He could have withdrawn from the scene after losing the confidence of his own government. He preferred to exploit the constitutional vagueness that surrounds his situation to give credit to those who dropped him. †And football with that? In a sense we are already there.

In the same way, the man who had so often violated the British ministerial code of conduct had always been able to escape any sanction, for the good and simple reason that the person responsible for the application of this code of conduct … himself.

This is what leads to an ambiguous “constitution”, never written down, the proper functioning of which depends entirely on the desire of those in power to respect its principles. This is why the British political debate today so often revolves around this famous “constitution”, which is not one of them. In other words, around governance.

Who is looking at whom?

Here we are. From Westminster we continue to Zurich. For what is shocking in the case of a democratically elected prime minister goes almost unnoticed in another political universe, that of sport; including, oh so many, that of football, in which a body often found in the dock is also the one who must conduct and punish the investigations in its own cases: FIFA.

This great sports organization, which most loudly and forcefully proclaims its unshakable commitment to the principles of transparency and integrity, is also the one over which no independent control body has a hold, holder of a power that it uses and abuses without fear of being held against it.

Gianni Infantino

Credit: Getty Images

The Court of Arbitration for Sport? No. On the one hand, the court of Lausanne only intervenes in disputes; on the other hand, the mode of financing poses a problem as FIFA is one of its donors.

Things are done that way. It would be less of a problem if it was led by leaders who only think about the good of the sport; since the absence of a “real” constitution would be less of a problem for the British, if the interests Boris Johnson served were those of his country before becoming his. It is in fact different.

FIFA’s so-called “independent” governing and ethics committees have rarely been fully independent, and have been even less so since Gianni Infantino, after purging its most devious members, including former Portuguese minister Miguel Maduro.

created a post of “director” of the “independent” committees, the responsibility of which he entrusted to two close allies, first the Italian lawyer Mario Gallavotti, then his former UEFA colleague Carlos Schneider – who, if we consider the parallel with the British political life, is very reminiscent of Boris Johnson’s appointment of Conservative MP Suella Braverman, so flexible and so understanding, to the pivotal post of Solicitor General of the United Kingdom.

The FIFA police are therefore themselves controlled by a police officer chosen by FIFA itself. FIFA has its statutes. She controls the laws of the game, but there is no ‘constitution’ of football. No constitutional council. No separation of powers.

How can you trust such a system? And how do you get out of this vicious circle?

Awareness This is the question that, in one form or another, has underpinned nearly all the presentations and debates, formal or informal, that inspired the conference. Play the game recently held for four days in Odense, Denmark.“Ah, another conference shall we say with a sigh. As if football needed it…” when he needs it now more than ever. And Play the game

is not a kind of football in Davos where the powerful of the sport come to exchange pleasantries in public and make deals behind the scenes. The first of these conferences, which are funded by the Danish government and whose speakers are not remunerated, took place twenty-five years ago; and in a quarter of a century, the gathering has become a must for anyone interested in sports governance questions. It wasn’t just the message we heard in Denmark that stood out. It was also the identity of those who wanted to pass it on. Create an agency to fight corruption in sport that is “above” the authorities, including FIFA? Sure, because“we can’t wait for public or sports organizations to do it” said Drago Kos, chairman of the OECD Working Group on Corruption.“Crimes are Crimes” The autonomy of the sport does not matter” † Says Paolo Bertaccini Bonoli, a consultant froml’United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

The words are not new. We’d heard them when FBI agents came to wake up FIFA dignitaries at their Zurich palace at dawn in 2015, but not from the same mouths, and the dynamics are new. It is no longer just a few activists who have come to the conclusion that the major sports organizations are no longer capable of governing themselves. International bodies and specialists in the fight against organized crime also confirm this.

It is, of course, impossible for FIFA to submit to any external control; and there will always be the question of how to legitimize an anti-corruption agency in sports with legal powers to investigate and punish. Cynics will always find it easy to say that words cost nothing and that setting up such an agency would be very expensive; they will also say that to be truly legitimate, it also needs a supervisory authority that oversees its actions and guarantees its independence; And so on. And even the most convinced adherents of the need for such an agency will admit that we are a long way from knowing how to go from its conception to its creation.

What we heard in Odense is therefore only a first step. We are still in the awareness phase. That of resolutions will follow. The alternative – doing nothing – is too depressing to accept.

And maybe one day the UK will have a constitution.

In particular, Maduro blocked the appointment of Putin’s minister Vitaly Mutko to the FIFA council

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