In Part 3 on a four part series looking at corruption in sport, Henry Vespa looks at how the money involved in major sporting events can end up subverting the law of the land…
Aside from the corruption (sorry, “alleged” corruption) that sees large amounts of international sporting budgets disappear into various back pockets, there’s also the negative impact of these huge events on the populace of the host country. And it’s not just the draconian tactics of the host government, sweeping aside their citizens in order to build a shiny new stadium, there’s also the effect that the rules and regulations of the sporting body itself have on the host country’s rule of law. I know, I know… surely a country’s legislation takes precedence over the rulebook of an organisation like the IOC or FIFA, right? Wrong. This is a clear example of the real political power that international sporting bodies wield. They may say that they’re only concerned with the sport itself but publicly they are turning a blind eye to what is effectively being done in their name.
Consider the strange example of South Africa hosting the FIFA football world cup in 2010. Four years before kick-off, the SA government passed the FIFA World Cup South Africa Special Measures Act. Not only did this new law include offenses such as “unauthorized commercial activities inside an exclusion zone” and “enter[ing] into a designated area while in unauthorized possession of a commercial object” (for which read: displaying any brand or logo that belongs to anyone who isn’t an official World Cup sponsor) but it also made such offenses criminal rather than civil which is a little unorthodox to say the least.
What impact did this have? Well, for starters, a few months prior to the big event, FIFA successfully took low-cost airline Kulula to court because they’d been using pictures of footballs and stadiums when advertising their flights to South Africa. Seems ridiculous, but that’s just one business fighting with another and let’s face it, none of us are likely to have too much sympathy for a budget airline. However, once the tournament was under way, at one of the matches two Dutch women were arrested for wearing orange miniskirts. Bearing in mind that orange is the Dutch team’s colours, one would imagine there were a lot of orange-clad fans there, but these two skirts were marked with the name of Dutch beer company, Bavaria, who had neglected to pay FIFA obscene amounts of money in sponsorship. Despite the fact that the logo in question was so small that reading it would probably constitute a sexual assault, these two ‘guerrilla marketers’ were hauled off to court to face potential sentences of up to six months in the clink.
And that’s where it got even odder. On arrival at the courthouse, the place was festooned with signs for the “FIFA World Cup Courts”. Branded justice? It’s all getting a little dystopian. The explanation is that South Africa was painfully aware of its poor reputation for crime and in order to boost its image on the global stage, 56 World Cup Courts were set up across the country. Unfortunately, apart from the odd theft or two, the orange miniskirts were the most serious crime dealt with by the 1500-strong dedicated World Cup justice team. Imagine what the SA government could have spent that money on instead.
Sanity did prevail in the end and the two Dutch women were released (presumably not least due to the press attention at the time and the outraged statements from the Netherlands foreign minister and embassy) but in case you think this bizarre episode was a one-off… New Zealand had exactly the same type of legislation in place for the 2012 Rugby World Cup.