In the final installment of a four part series looking at corruption in sport, Henry Vespa looks at the connection between sport and the construction industry…
You’d think corporate-branded justice and immense backhanders to committee members would be enough dirt to sling at the ‘good’ name of sport. But that would be leaving out the plentiful dodgy dealings on the construction front. Let’s face it, when it comes to the Olympics, the Games are like an incredibly snooty and germ-phobic houseguest; they don’t like to sit their precious posterior down anywhere that’s been sat on before. No potential host country places a bid saying, hey, look at all these great sporting facilities we have. No, they say, hey, look at all these drawings and plans of sporting facilities we can build for you. Wherever the Games go, it smells of fresh paint.
I’ve already mentioned the well-documented events leading up to the Beijing Olympics, in which people were kicked out of their homes to make way for the stadium and – one suspects – didn’t receive so much as a free ticket. For animal lovers, there’s plenty of fuel for outrage. Preparing to co-host the UEFA European Championship, Ukraine got a little worried about the number of stray cats and dogs on the streets and how that might tarnish their city’s image. So, they had them rounded up and killed. Even in London (bastion of civilization – and we all know how sentimental the Brits are about their furry friends, right?) in order to create an Olympic parkland prior to the 2012 Games, hundreds of rabbits were gassed and a nature reserve filled in.
But that’s just the environmental stuff, what about the money? There’s a lot of money in construction and much of it changes hands just to ensure that the ‘right’ companies get the juicy contracts to build all these new facilities. In the run up to the recent Sochi Games, allegedly half of the cost of putting on the event (estimated conservatively at US$51bn) had slipped between the cracks of corrupt building contracts. I guess, at least with a stadium, the theory is that after the fuss is over, the local populace have a nice new sporting facility from which they’ll derive years of benefit. But Brazil is due to host the FIFA World Cup later this year and there’s an outcry over not only the overall cost but also the fact that public funds are being used to build the temporary infrastructure like tents, cabling, and communications. That amounts to $540m of taxpayers’ money that won’t be spent on healthcare and education just so people around the world can watch a bunch of overpaid footballers kick a ball around.
But in the end, who cares? Apparently nobody… or at least not enough to really do anything about it. Corruption and iffy practices for these global events are too big a business for anyone to make a stand. Governments may mumble a few disapproving noises here and there but they all send over teams of athletes and sporting personalities to compete. Back to Sochi, pretty much the whole world was up in arms about Russia’s treatment of its LGBT community but did anyone actually boycott the event? No. The U.S. made a big point of sending a couple of lesbians as part of the official delegation but that was it. I bet Vlad Putin lost a lot of sleep over that.
So what’s left? After each event is over, there’s an empty stadium, memories of empty rhetoric, and a clear message to any nation that they can do what the hell they want and we’ll still play nicely with them. Returning to the FC Barcelona contract scandal, I suppose at least Sandro Rosell did the decent thing and resigned, which is more than the president of Spain has done when accused of large-scale corruption in his own political party. It’s a fine line but maybe there’s just a tad more integrity in sports than there is in politics. Just a tad.