One of the things that struck me over the course of last year about the many issues we face in sports governance, and which gave me cause for reflection during the festive season when I spent some quality time with my family, is the high incidence of nepotism at the highest levels of sport.
Whether it’s cycling, athletics or football, there are examples almost everywhere where a powerful father (funny how it’s never a mother) has given a coveted role to a close relative.
To me, this is yet another example of a failure of governance and the extent to which sporting Federations are not held accountable. To anyone.
Let’s take a look at a few:
The McQuaids of Cycling
Former UCI President, Pat McQuaid, comes from a cycling family. His father Jim and uncle Paddy were top cyclists. Jim and Madge McQuaid raised seven sons and three daughters. All seven sons raced. Paul, Oliver and Darach McQuaid, the youngest of the ten, as well as his cousin John McQuaid, represented Ireland in World Road Championships and the Olympic road race.
That’s all terrific. It’s great for a family to have a shared love of sport. But there’s more.
- Pat’s son, David, is the General Manager of an international cycling team and sole distributor of an Italian cycling clothing company in Ireland – a company that also just happens to be a sponsor of the International Cycling Union (UCI). David is also involved in the administration of the Tour de Langkawi, Tour of Ireland and the first UCI races in India, and was the Team Manager of the Baku Cycling Team.
- Pat’s other son, Andrew, is a lawyer, rider agent and the General Manager of Team Wiggins. There is no doubt that Andrew was able to attract top riders in the sport as clients because his father was UCI President.
- Pat’s youngest brother, Darach, continues to make a living from managing races, including the Tour of Ireland, and "sponsorships" of cycling teams. Marco Pinotti (a pro rider at the time) claimed that he had not been paid prize money from the Tour of Ireland. There was no sanction from the UCI plus Darach picked up an additional role on the organising committee for the UCI-owned Tour of Beijing and a gig as consultant for the bid for the World Championships in Richmond, USA. We also now know that when Pat McQuaid waived the drug testing rules for Lance Armstrong’s comeback in 2009, the returned favour from Lance was to ride in Darach’s Tour of Ireland where the level of interest was off the scale. Need I say any more?
This all happened while Pat was the UCI President.
The Diacks of Athletics
A strong athletics family, Lamine Diack was a long jumper in his youth.
He made his way to the top of world athletics administration. This is despite the fact he was named in the infamous ISL case, uncovered by Platinum Watercooler Award winner, Andrew Jennings. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Ethics Committee looked at ISL’s payments to Diack, but they gave him nothing more than a warning because he wasn’t formally a member of the IOC at the time.
However, a bribery allegation – as we now know with world sport – is not a reason to disqualify someone for higher office, and Lamine went on to become the 16-year President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) until it finally hit the fan late last year.
Up until December 2014, Lamine’s son, Papa Massata Diack, had a role as a "marketing consultant" to the IAAF. He left this role, under pressure, due to allegations of extortion of athletes, and payments sought from countries bidding for major athletics events (notably Qatar).
Twelve months later, Papa Diack was further caught up in the IAAF doping scandal and has now been banned for life.
The Blatters (et al) of Football
I’ve already mentioned the famous ISL case. To recap briefly: former FIFA Presidents Havelange (Blatter’s predecessor) and Blatter decided a long time ago that the way to get the sport uber-rich was through marketing and TV rights (smart move).
Through their networks, they teamed-up with ISL who paid bribes to FIFA heavies for years (dumb move). About $100 million (£70 million/€92 million) in total according to Jennings’ book FOUL! and BBC reports. (The ISL "business model" extended to other sporting bodies also, but nowhere near the scale of FIFA).
At least the IOC Ethics Committee conducted an investigation into the ISL payments. The current acting FIFA President, Issa Hayatou, was suspended from the IOC for his role in accepting payments from ISL and Havelange resigned from the IOC prior to findings being made against him.
However, when this information came to light at the end of 2010, the FIFA Ethics Committee did nothing - $100 million of bribes, and they just looked the other way with one prominent Ethics Committee member – an Australian journalist – referring to Jennings as a “discredited moron”. Funny how he won’t comment on this now.
Eventually, in about 2012, the new Ethics Committee head, Michael Garcia, did, but we’ll never know what he found because his colleague, Judge Eckert, buried the report. Never to be seen. Further, although the Swiss Judge who oversaw the case agreed to make the material public, FIFA has been busy fighting for its suppression in the Zug courts for the past four years.
Who was one of ISL’s senior executives? Sepp Blatter’s nephew, Philippe Blatter.
Despite this, when TV rights were awarded by FIFA in 2011 for the 2014 World Cup, they went to Infront Sports and Media, of Zug. Who’s the President and CEO of Infront? None other than Philippe Blatter.
There are many more examples, of course. In football and elsewhere.
For instance, Michel Platini’s son Laurent, got a plum job with Qatar Sports Investment in 2011, soon after they took over Paris St-Germain and Platini voted for Qatar 2022.
He may not be Mozart, Vangelis or David Bowie, but Platini’s daughter’s former partner, Johann Taieb, earned music composition gigs with FIFA, UEFA and the DFB.
And even back home in Australia, when octogenarian property billionaire Frank Lowy had to finally leave after 12 years in the job as President of the Australian FA (FFA), he engineered a process to make sure the one-and-only person in the entire nation of 23 million people who could possibly take over from him was….his son who is joint managing director (along with another son) of the company his father built, Westfield.
Did anyone at the UCI, IAAF, FIFA, UEFA or FFA raise objections to any of this?
Chances are, no. Or, if they did, they probably lost their job or were ostracised in some other way.
The point is this. We all want to help our children and family as much as possible. That’s why we try to invest in their education, encourage them to explore the world around them and nurture them to stand on their own two feet, take decisions, make mistakes and get back up again.
These examples I give – and, believe me, they’re just the tip of the iceberg – are another demonstration of two characteristics that world sporting bodies seem to share.
First, there is a fundamental ignorance of basic standards of transparency and accountability. And second, there is either astounding misjudgment of public perception; or worse – and this is more likely the case – they’re so comfortable in their long-held powerful positions as "king" of all they survey, that they think they’re above all that. They come to believe that community expectations and standards don’t apply to them.
Well they do. And, as 2016 kicks in to gear, we’ll be keeping on the case of sports who continue to fail.