Event Corruption: Money or Morals?

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Spring 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?

Share your opinions with us!


jlannon2014 says:

An interesting debate! Does this mean that Britain is leading the way in anti-corruption practice, or, as you say, does it put Britain at a disadvantage? In the increasingly important world of relationship management The Bribery Act 2010 attempts to be clear about the boundaries, however significant grey areas exist. The issue of FIFA and IOC is one that needs political pressure; if someone is found to have accepted a bribe, they must surely be fined more heavily and barred from voting or acting on behalf of that organisation ever again?

Thank you for the comment on an interesting debate. Britain is indeed leading the way in anti-corruption measures in terms of having the Bribery Act and through the work that they contribute worldwide. Whilst there are still grey areas, the UK Bribery Act is a lot more black and white than a lot of the other nations anti-bribery acts. The belief is that Britain is at a distinct disadvantage now when it comes to bidding for the big events however, the moral standing of how Britain is viewed is surely more important than having a mega-event come to the shores and the benefits it would bring? Yes, in our opinion the punishments that were handed out to the three members of FIFA who were prosecuted on bribery charges were not strong enough. However, what was worse, was the fact that they were allowed to vote after prosecution. The credibility of the people voting has been tarnished through the conviction so how can we trust the outcome? The average conviction length for corruption is around 6 years imprisonment which once again begs the question of whether the money talks in terms of conviction length as well?

Sian Prior says:

Whereas I do personally agree that corruption in any sense is wrong. Within the current structures of society, it has beome more of a norm for business. As an event manager, especially ones such as ourselves starting out in the industry, I think that we will have to conform to that ‘It’s simply business’ frame of mind; take the orders as they come from those above us and hope that things change politically and move with these changes. Current media does bring our attention to this contemporary issue and is hopefuly that start of this change to lessen the extent of corruption in events. I don’t beleive it can ever be eradicated; but it’s a start.

Thank you for your view point. You raise some interesting points, however, do you believe that it has become the norm for just large scale events or across the entire events spectrum? The other question raised from your view is whether we, as graduates, can go into the industry with trying to assist with eradicating corruption or should we take the view that as it has not been fixed yet that we surely cannot fix It and just take the orders as they come rather than fighting the system?

alcolade says:

The tone of this post seems to apply the corruption is a fairly modern interruption in an otherwise ethical and “decent” chain of events. Especially in the context of major corporations, understanding the specific highlighting of sports, the problem should be understood that humanity itself is corrupt, because human nature stems from a desire for material wealth and belongings in the face of spiritual loss. That aside, any notion that falls short of a complete ethical act, and justifies the “just a matter of business “mentality, justifies more corruption, more people dying in Qatar to build World Cup stadiums, more human trafficking that has been used to bring in money around those stadiums, and more violent abuse in the wake of ethical relations. In the context of event corruption, complacency is unethical and the drive to be ethical is the only goal of humanity.
I.E. – Capitalisms Drive to accumulate material wealth over the well-being of its workers is in enough itself unethical, and should be rejected. That aside, I agree with major portions of this post, and hope that more like it are produced in the future!

alcolade says:

I agree with major portions of this post, however the toned that corruption is a modern event that’s only happened in the past few decades is one that seems a little silly to me. Corruption, which is endemic to the capitalist drive for wealth and material gain over ethical relations between people, cannot be tolerated because, more important than the image of the events in sports that are being played, the people that are affected around those places are in danger. Complacency in a place of corruption justifies more human trafficking around those stadiums to bring in revenue, more slaves in Qatar dying due to terrible were conditions, and more structural violence in the face of possible relief. Anyone who justifies the “that’s just the way it is “mentality is part of the problem, and should be rejected.
But I really enjoyed this post, and I hope the discussions it facilitates are productive and numerous, and that more posts just like this come forward!

Thank you for your comments. It would be naive of us to believe corruption has only recently become a problem. We are stating that it is only in the last few decades that it is getting the major media coverage needed to try to eradicate the problem. Certainly, the viewpoint that you take that humanity itself is corrupt and the way this links into corporate corruption is a very interesting point. If people accept it as business then nothing will change, the media attention is great as it is bringing it up as an issue and the more people who stand up against corruption the stronger the voice for eradication and transparency. You raise the issue that corruption ends up going far deeper, and effects more people than the money deposited into people’s bank accounts and that is something often overlooked. However every major event brings with it a problem usually, whether it be ethical or unethical and if corruption were to be completely eradicated, would there not be another gremlin ready to take its place as surely events on this scale cannot be completely ethical?

We had the following comment from LinkedIn:

Great article thank you for sharing.

The awareness for business ethical behaviour and the changing norms and values of stakeholders makes this an important issue to consider. We as events professional create experiences but it is becoming increasingly important to consider our morals and principles before making decisions to measure the impact of our practices,

Agree that by implementing the UK Bribery Act, UK might be in disadvantage in terms of bidding for mega events (which should not be the case but hey “it’s just the way of doing business…right?!”). Nevertheless, it is further influencing ethical negotiations, and I personally believe that the always growing demand for corporate responsibility will ensure the implementation of such and similar acts around the globe, so UK is just ahead which means in the near future we will also be ahead in the way of doing business.

Wendy McDonald says:

An interesting article. Corruption has been around forever but it seems to be now that we are becoming more aware of it in more situations and workplaces. This is good as maybe it will lead to more people taking notice and demanding that something be done.

Ben says:

It does appear that those suspected of corruption are untouchable, mainly with Sepp Blatter at Fifa, if I do remember rightly he’s run for the post to be head of Fifa for years virtually unopposed, and the recent reports into corruption for voting for Qatar to host the World Cup wasn’t fully published initially which raised the question of whats being hidden and why?
The notion that we ‘should just accept its a business norm’ in the wider area of events industries and business in general is something that would concern me as a recent graduate, especially if people felt that its impossible to change something that is supposedly meant to carry severe sanctions for those involved. It would raise questions on the ethical grounds a business claims to be run by, and in my view (which may be seen as naive or simplistic) ethics and morals aren’t a particularly hard ideal to grasp and base business successes around. However, it would seem that greed and the need to be at the top and in control of everything causes people to veer towards corruption as it provides a sense of security they wouldn’t have otherwise and power, which brings it back to my original point that people involved in corruption do appear untouchable. Hopefully, that is something that is looked at properly and without bias so that the general public who just enjoy sporting events for example and world cups that require bids to be made to host them all can have faith in the fact it will be awarded on merit and who can provide the best events.

Thank you for your comment. It would appear that they are untouchable, especially with Sepp Blatter. You are very right in believing that he has run un-opposed for the last two elections. Indeed in the last one, the candidates seemed to fall by the wayside through reports of corruption and bribery on the candidate’s parts which should raise eyebrows. It seems through discussion with other graduates, that they are very split between the notion of “it’s just business” and that they would try to not go with the flow as to speak. You are very right in the fact that ethics and morals are a very simplistic idea to base your business around, however there should still be big question marks raised over how many companies can actually stand by this motto when it comes to accepting extra money for either their business or themselves.

Diane says:

I am thinking…….Does corruption in major events damage the image of an event profession?
Yes, if the event planner is involved or knows but turns a blind eye to it.
But no, if they aren’t. But then, how does one prove it!?!?
I want to say, no! But it can be yes, if the event planner was the one who was corrupted.

We first have to define the word, “corruption”, we have to define it, in detail.
Is corruption just about the money or like someone said – or can accepting an all paid, weeklong trip to a luxury hotel be ethical? Or is this just the simply the pecks of the job?? It’s is such a fine line, because each corporation has their own rules. And with rules there are always loop holes.
And each country definition to what corruption is, could be different. And to another country which would seem underhanded – to another, in their view – it’s not.

I was an wedding cordinator/event planner. I did whatever my client wanted. But I knew what where my fine line was drawn. At times someone might hand me extra money, because they wanted something extra special but not to tell my client. Because it was always to my client benefit.
So was I being greedy for taking that extra money or did I make that event better for my client, and for eveyone else there?
To me, it made it better, because I had more money for the party. But….maybe someone would have thought, I was being greedy for taking more money. That I should have just done the event, the way the client wished. And not have done the add-ons that others wished.
You have to make decisions, that you think will be the best for your client, then everyone else second. But bottom line you want the best event for everyone there because your client wants the best for everyone. It’s hard at times. Because you also want this too. People there, (who might be your future clients) are going to see and say to them selfes – wow I really enjoyed myself and that event planner was great. I going to hire this person to do my party.
You will always need and be prepared for a 360 degree view, when it comes to event planning.
If you don’t know what a 360 degree view is – it’s a circle. All sides!!

Thank you for your kind reply. You have touched on the one problem that we identified with corruption – the fact that there is not a definite answer as to what corruption is or how corruption can be interpreted. This is what leads to such problems worldwide, and the fact that it seems some countries can get away with corruption whereas other countries really clampdown on it.
Taking your history as a wedding and event planner gives us a brilliant insight into how the industry works when it comes to taking payment for services. We certainly do not agree that taking extra money to help enhance the experience is a bribe however if you were to take the money in return for negotiating with a third client it would be. It is certainly a very complex issue that does have many grey areas within it, purely because you have a sliding for small to big businesses.

Mia Hooper says:

I agree with bits of what has been said, its not a new thing, corruption has been around a long time, we just hear more about it now because of media/globalisation etc. It’s definitely a contemporary issue.
But i also think its the nature of the business, they totally misuse their power because they can and they want more money/power etc, its so far within some companies that not much can be done about it. to accept that going into event management is immoral, but that’s how they got where they are right… so if you cant beat them, join them. and no its not just large companies, smaller companies 100% do it too, but because the corruption isn’t as large a scale, perspectively the public don’t think much of it compared to when the bigger companies partake in it.

Doesn’t everyone use corruption in some way or form in there day to day working lives?
You go to a network meeting/event, meet and greet people. You have an aim before going to the event, to ‘get a deal’ or gain a valuable contact. You only get chance to enter those circles from using social corruption.
Yes it could be seen as corruption between Qatar and Fifa, or was this a sign of political power over the UK and other countries who wanted to host the major event. Even though England weren’t successful in their application, it became a valuable advertisement for the country and showed what we could do. Maybe we knew that already?
You never know what corruption really is until you are in it.

Thank you for your comment. The aspect of social corruption is a very interesting and different angle and one that needs to be discussed in more depth. The feeling must be that how a contact gets created is not as important as a financial bribe because there is not any money involved? This links then into your comments about the signs of political power and leads to the question as to whether money is more powerful than politics in this world? If politics were more powerful than money then no amount of bribe would help to win a bid?

Emily says:

I think this is a very good post and some interesting points have been raised! I do find that corruption within events needs to be dealt with as it is something that damages the image of an event profession. I had no idea that corruption within major events was so bad, and was shocked to learn that there is not more in place to prevent it.
Perhaps it has gone too far for it to be stopped fully? How would one prove certain incidents too?
I like the way this post has dealt with the issue with morals and ethics in mind as it is often something that is over-looked.
I find that perhaps the poor moral judgement of those committing the corruption within major events may have gone too far, and the UK cannot really come back from it.
However, I’d be interested to find out a little more about the strategies that are in place or will be put in place that aim to prevent corruption and keep major events such as the Eurovision Song Contest fair and just.

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