Event Corruption: Money or Morals?
9th March 2015
Is corruption so ingrained into the heart of major events that it can no longer be stopped?
It’s no secret that corruption has existed in mega events for decades, the actions of FIFA dating back to 1989 support this claim, illustrated by payments totalling tens of millions of dollars.
Why has corruption suddenly become such a contemporary issue?
The world’s attention was again drawn to corruption during the bidding for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022. Since then, there has been debate as to whether corruption is an issue that’s inevitable and should continue to be overlooked; or something that tarnishes the integrity of event management and therefore must be eliminated. The media storm exposed the level of corruption within world renowned organisations such as FIFA and the IOC. If these influential leaders embrace corruption, what example does this set for other event governing bodies? Does corruption already exist in smaller events? Are more scandals to come? It would seem in a variety of cases that corruption is covered up with further corruption or bribery. During the bidding for the Qatar World Cup, four members of FIFA who were convicted of corruption were controversially still able to vote. This must surely beg the question:
Are those that partake in corruption untouchable?
Numerous allegations of corruption have been brought to light, in 2011, 3 active and 2 former members of FIFA’s executive committee were suspended, as well as the forced resignation of another active member. Even Sepp Blatter, the current President of FIFA has been linked to corruption claims following accusations that he was enlisted by Vladimir Putin to lobby for votes during the 2018 bid. Of the scandals that led to conviction, punishments ranged from 1-4 year bans coupled with fines of £3000-£6500. However, once the ban has been served, the disgraced officials are able to return to their previous position. Does this punishment undermine the severity of corruption? A possible reason for the lenient sanctioning is the shrewd method officials are using to loophole certain payments. Many of the illicit transactions are processed though Swiss banking, where payments can be made providing that the money is labelled as ‘a payment that is not intended to lead to profit of any kind’. To minimise further unethical behaviour, the UK Bribery Act 2010 was introduced aiming to increase levels of transparency surrounding the exchange of offerings. However, while the rest of the world is still employing underhand techniques, it can be argued that the UK is in a severely disadvantaged position when bidding for mega events. With this in mind, will the UK be able to battle against corruption to win a mega event? Or are they effectively shooting themselves in the foot going head to head against those with an immoral advantage?
Is there evidence of corruption outside of sporting mega events?
Bribery and corruption within The Eurovision Song Contest has been accepted and joked about throughout the course of the event. An investigation by the European Broadcasting Union was launched after the 2011 winners Azerbaijan were exposed by Sweden for attempting to bribe jurors from several countries. The relaxed attitude towards the political misdemeanors makes a mockery of the event and the severity of corruption and bribery. Attempts to combat the lack of political transparency have been implemented but it remains to be seen whether the image of Eurovision will ever be taken seriously.
Does corruption tarnish the future progress of an ethical events profession?
“Any whistle-blowing act is likely to harm or damage the reputation of an organisation”
(Fisher and Lovell, 2003)
The interest surrounding business ethics has been intensifying over the last few decades. Alongside this, the event ‘industry’ has rapidly progressed leading to much debate as to whether event management truly is an industry or an event profession. The emerging idea of an event profession must surely require the application of ethics, which can be defined as a set of moral principles or values. The presence of event corruption defies the concept of ethics on a global scale for the world to see, therefore, impeding the transformation from an industry to a profession.
Ethics is a complex issue that relies upon individuals’ and businesses’ interpretation of integrity and trust and the value they place upon these. Every business is faced with ethical decisions and event management is no exception to this. Amongst professional bodies numerous codes of ethics exist, however the absence of a sole uniform code of practice makes compliance of this difficult to regulate. Both FIFA and the IOC hold their own ethical committees, these committees ensure that the code is followed and breaches of compliance are sanctioned appropriately.
The FIFA code of conduct clearly states that it is forbidden to “offer, promise, give or accept anything that provides personal value, pecuniary value, or any other advantage in order to obtain business, retain business, or gain any other benefit related to the official duties of you or the person with whom you are exchanging the offer, promise, or gift in question”. From another perspective, familiarisation trips are a commonly accepted ‘perk’ that many corporate event managers are willing to benefit from. However, there appears to be a fine line between what can be considered a genuine familiarisation trip and what is perceived to be unethically abusing the goodwill of others. Can accepting an all-expense paid, week-long trip to a luxury hotel be ethical – especially when there is no intention to use or recommend the service? Or is this simply a perk of the job? Is it a risk that the hotel takes in order to promote and to grow their business? Or should a professional event manager have a moral obligation to treat other businesses with respect?
So what? Everyone does it, right?
It’s just a free pen, a free lunch, an overnight stay in a hotel, it’s just a business trip in the south of France, it’s just £100,000 between ‘friends’…….
Is a posh lunch to a small business the equivalent of a one million pound incentive to FIFA? Is it the principle that matters, or is it the scale of the ‘gift’ that crosses the boundary between ethical and unethical?
“It’s nothing personal, it’s just business”
Is a small amount of underhand behaviour simply everyday business? Is it the extent of media attention, or the amount of public money used in mega events that makes it such a big deal? Maybe it’s the blatant abuse of power by those that are supposed to be role models? As event managers, what position does this put us in? Should we accept the nature of the business or try to change what we know to be wrong?
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