The Swiss government's plans to combat corruption in sport have been largely well received but some critics fear the measures go too far. Host to 65 international sports bodies, Switzerland is under pressure to update anti-corruption laws.
A Federal Sports Office report released on November 7 concluded that existing anti-corruption measures taken by Swiss-based sports organisations were “insufficient” and “more robust action” was needed.
The 70-page report said governing bodies had to put their houses in order via harmonized, binding good governance systems, but the state must also adapt legal structures so that corruption cases can be dealt with more effectively, while also strengthening international cooperation.
“What is at stake is not just sport’s integrity but also Switzerland’s reputation as the home to numerous international sports associations,” the government declared.
With the 2022 Winter Olympics and a possible Swiss candidature firmly in the front of his mind, Sports Minister Ueli Maurer has called for a “zero tolerance” strategy.
Carlo Sommaruga, a Social Democrat MP who filed a parliamentary initiative on corruption in sport in December 2010, said he was mostly satisfied with the report.
“I’m happy that the authorities have produced a wide-ranging study that concluded that corruption and match-fixing are recurring problems which have negative impact on the image of sport and major consequences,” he said.
“But most importantly that we need to act.”
Roland Büchel, a Swiss People’s Party parliamentarian who lodged a motion on the issue the same year, had mixed feelings.
“We lost one year in delays. The report is not tough enough. In general the part about corruption is not dealt with as well as the part about match-fixing,” he lamented, adding that the section on the world football governing body Fifa “read like it’d been written by Fifa’s PR department”.
Lawyers for the sports office and justice ministry are currently examining a raft of legal changes from the new report.
At present Swiss courts only deal with private corruption cases once they receive a complaint from a company, individual or group.
Lawyers are examining how to change the law so private corruption cases may be prosecuted automatically; this would then be incorporated into the Penal Code. The move is in line with recommendations made by the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) to better fight private-sector graft and bribery of foreign officials, which Switzerland has to report on by April 2013.
Against this backdrop experts are now looking at how members of sports federations and associations might be covered by anti-corruption laws.
Last month three Swiss League football players accused of fraud linked to Europe’s biggest match-fixing scandal were acquitted by the Swiss court in a landmark decision.
Anti-corruption experts believe this would not have happened if the gap had been closed in the related criminal law with the introduction of a new offence - “sporting fraud”. This proposed change is also being considered.
Another priority is to revise national lottery legislation to combat illegal betting and match-fixing.
The lawyers have until the end of next year to come up with specific amendments to be approved by parliament.
Looking ahead observers say opposition to the legal changes is unlikely to come from international federations.
“The only way they could avoid it would be to move to another country,” said Jean-Loup Chappelet, an expert on the management of sports organisations at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration in Lausanne.
“But it would be difficult for them to find a better host than Switzerland.”
Resistance to the new private corruption legal changes may come from private industry, but they may also come from small Swiss sports, cultural or religious associations which could fall under the umbrella of the new measure and which fear state interference.
“There is a risk the debate could be instrumentalised to slow the unavoidable process,” said Sommaruga.
Land flat on faces
Swiss anti-corruption expert Mark Pieth, chairman of Fifa’s Independant Governance Committee currently recommending measures to clean up the world football governing body, welcomed the new report as “far-reaching”.
But he fears that the authorities might “overdo it and land flat on their faces”.
“We need a corruption norm that applies to sports officials but I would’ve preferred a very limited approach focusing on the 65 international sports organisations based here,” he noted.
Pieth would like the authorities to do more on the regulatory side.
“Ideally I’d like to a see a blueprint of a regulatory concept: financial regulations, a compliance system and conflict of interest rules. Those who don’t fulfil these requirements are not accepted and are a risk for Switzerland. A bit like bank regulations.”
Fifa vs. yodellers
Nonetheless, the new report represents a radical change of direction for the Swiss authorities, which observers say have handled the federations with a kind of “benign neglect”.
Simple association status has allowed federations to govern their own affairs without the state sticking its nose in; critics say action is long overdue.
“It’s not normal that a multi-billion-dollar sports organisation still has the same status as a Swiss mountain village yodelling association,” said Büchel.
Over the past ten years external pressure to clamp down on corruption in sport has been steadily building and in the future may prove irresistible.
“Up until the year 2000 anything was possible, backhanders or hidden commissions, everyone was at it. They were not illegal in Switzerland or elsewhere,” said Chappelet.
“But from 2000 the OECD, the Council of Europe and UN decided we needed new rules so Switzerland had no choice but to change.”