EVANSTON, Illinois — As the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil kicks off, media reports have surfaced about fraud surrounding the 2010 event in South Africa, as well as accusations of a pattern of bribery by Qatar to win support for its bid to host the event in 2022.
In South Africa, allegedly, a phony company acting as a front for criminal syndicates offered referees for exhibition matches — all expenses covered — to the country’s soccer federation.
Under financial pressure from the costs of hosting the Cup, South Africa accepted the referees for the exhibition games, even though FIFA rules barred host countries from doing so. Despite significant evidence that South African officials were complicit in the plan to fix the exhibition matches, the prosecuting authority in South Africa has filed no criminal charges.
Nor have sanctions been issued by FIFA, the global umbrella organization of professional soccer with no investigative ability, limited punitive power and no tribunal to which leaders of criminal organizations and match fixers can be held accountable.
Although the Sports Confederation of South Africa is authorized by law to initiate investigations into any alleged malpractice in sport and to ask President Jacob Zuma to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate further, it has not happened. Zuma has apparently brushed aside evidence of corruption and match fixing in South Africa’s soccer federation, leaving FIFA to complete its report and let it founder internally.
That’s a shame, because South Africa, in fact, has the legal tools to effectively investigate and prosecute the crime.
Passed a decade ago, the South African Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act outlaws any form of match fixing and irregular betting. Significant punishments, including lengthy prison sentences, are possible in the event of conviction.
Gambling and bribery proceeds can be confiscated, money-laundering covers can be exposed, and whistleblowers can be protected. The statute itself declares “corruption and related corrupt activities undermine rights; the credibility of governments; the institutions and values of democracy; and ethical values and morality; and jeopardises the rule of law.”
In 2011, the South African Constitutional Court voiced alarm about the breadth of corruption in South Africa in Glenister v. President of the Republic of South Africa. The court found that South Africa’s constitution and international treaty obligated it to establish and maintain an independent body to combat corruption and organized crime, and asserted that “corruption has become a scourge in our country and it poses a real danger to our developing democracy.” The document also warned of the pervasiveness of organized crime and the need to “prevent, combat and investigate these crimes.”
No one’s hands are tied. The legal tools to combat corruption in sport exist, if President Zuma’s executive branch chooses to use them.
The author of the Glenister opinion, acting Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, may have shaped his perspective on corruption in sporting events while he was imprisoned for 10 years on the infamous Robben Island for anti-apartheid activity. Along with President Zuma, Justice Moseneke and others obtained a copy of FIFA regulations and organized a soccer league in the prison that was given honorary retrospective membership by FIFA in 2007.
FIFA President Joseph Blatter has lauded the league, founded on Robben Island along FIFA rules, principles and statutes, as creating a space of “dignity, respect and democracy.”
FIFA is only as strong as its member countries. It is incumbent on South Africa, therefore, to apply the legal tools at its disposal to thoroughly investigate allegations of corruption in the 2010 World Cup.
It’s not too late. An investigation now, on the eve of the 2014 World Cup’s June 12 kickoff in Brazil, would send a strong signal to soccer fans that the host of the last World Cup cares about its integrity.
President Zuma has experienced first hand the meaning of fair play and democracy. Investigating match fixing in South Africa would show the rest of the world that he is willing to let the best man win.
Juliet S. Sorensen is a professor at Northwestern University Law School, where she teaches Public Corruption and the Law. She is a Public Voices Fellow with the Op-Ed Project.