Photographer:Fotograaf: Marc Puig Perry
Money laundering, match-fixing, nepotism, bribery. Corruption is business as usual at football clubs as well as at the highest governing bodies, such as FIFA. Last week, four law students organized a symposium on corruption and football. “Sports is a world of its own.”
On the day of the symposium (May 23rd), former Barcelona president Sandro Rosell and his wife were arrested for receiving illegal payments and money laundering. It’s a striking illustration of the fact that corruption in football is everyday business.
The symposium was organized by four female law students who themselves never played soccer, says the Spanish Teresa Vázquez López, but who are all interested in football and even more so in corruption. The students chose this topic for their Premium project and invited five experts.
Reginald Thal, a former player of the local football club MVV, kicks off. Times have changed completely, stresses Thal, who played at the top level in the eighties. “Only a few games were covered on television, salaries were far from impressive, and corruption was a matter of letting the grass grow a little longer when Ajax visited Maastricht. A team mate scored seven own goals, two in one game, but we never gave a thought to match-fixing.”
Now it’s the first thing that springs to mind in the case of an own goal. Why does cheating and corruption occur so often in soccer? Because it’s a world of its own, says Arno Müller, a German sports philosopher of the university of Erfurt. “They have their own pitch, their own time, and their own rules. An attacker cannot sue a defender for breaking his ankle. Players accept that they might get hurt and that the only penalty is a red card. Even with regard to legal aspects, they have their own system: Court of Arbitration for Sports. Because of this Eigenweltlichkeit, the EU's influence is limited.”
There’s a huge lack of transparency, according to Gerke Berenschot. In this respect, sports is no different from companies such as Siemens or Volkswagen, says the board member of Transparency International, an NGO that fights corruption. “The reported cases are probably the tip of the iceberg. We are dependent on whistleblowers, but they seldom stand out. It has consequences when they do so. Simone Farina, a player in Italy, couldn’t find a club after whistleblowing on match-fixing.”
Board members of clubs try their best to hold up the image of clean sports, says Müller. No corruption, no doping, nothing wrong! “In the meantime, we read all these shameful stories in the media. Why should sports be better than the rest of society? It’s like a chief of police wanting to ban bank robberies. It’s absurd, it won’t happen.”