Lawmakers in Switzerland have added the heads of international sports organizations to the definition of politically exposed persons, making it easier to go after the sporting officials on corruption charges.
Dubbed the “FIFA law,” the new rules will apply to about 60 multi-billion dollar international sports groups based in Switzerland, most notably the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), according to an article by Agence France-Presse. The law lumps sports organizations’ leaders alongside political dictators as politically exposed persons who would face judicial proceedings upon allegations of corruption or money laundering, AFP reported. It also criminalizes corruption in sport.
“With this law, corruption in sport will become a crime. It’s the first step towards cleaning up sport,” Roland Büchel, the Swiss People’s Party lawmaker who waged a four-year battle to pass the bill, told AFP.
Zurich-based FIFA has been dogged by criticism since it awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The criticism was enough to prompt the organization to launch its own review into the bidding process for not just Qatar but for World Cup games slated for Russia in 2018. The report, which has not been released in its entirety as of yet, has triggered controversy in and of itself, with one lead investigator saying reopening the bidding process is not needed, and the other, investigator Michael Garcia, objecting and ultimately resigning this week. FIFA’s executive committee is scheduled to vote at its next meeting on whether to release the full report.
Lausanne-based IOC also has been hampered by corruption charges, ranging from bribery charges involving the Salt Lake City winter games in 2002 to allegations of result tampering and billions lost due to corruption in Sochi.
Previously, sports federation officials were exempt from Swiss rules on money laundering. Now banks will be required to flag suspicious payments to sports officials and their families. The bill was approved easily by the lower house, and now will be discussed by the Senate. Büchel told AFP he expects the measure to be ratified in April or May.
“It sends a clear message to the world that officials must accept responsibility,” Büchel said.
Dissenting politicians felt the measure went too far, and feared the new rules could lead to an exodus of the sporting groups. “FIFA is already doing a lot in the fight against corruption,” Christian Wasserfallen of centre-right Radical Party was quoted as saying by swissinfo.ch. “I could imagine Switzerland will pass some sort of law and then FIFA will say, ‘We don’t have this problem in any other country,’ and they’ll be gone in a flash.”
Officials from FIFA and the IOC said they welcomed the new anti-corruption rules. “As FIFA has repeatedly stated in the past, FIFA supports government measures for protecting the integrity of the sport and tackling corruption,” a FIFA spokesman was quoted as saying by AFP. And IOC head Thomas Bach told the publication the new rules “are in line with what the IOC already does.”