Nick Butler

Last week's arrest of Brazilian sporting bigwig Carlos Nuzman on charges of "corruption, money laundering and criminal organisation" relating to Rio de Janeiro's successful 2016 Olympic and Paralympic bid has shone an ever-intensifying spotlight on the integrity of the Olympic world.

Nuzman, who, among other things, is accused of not paying tax on 16 gold bars stashed in a Swiss vault, denies all wrongdoing and has vowed to clear his name. Most people nonetheless seem to think that this marks the tip of the iceberg and that an avalanche of other allegations will eventually emerge, implicating other IOC officials.

"In the late 1990s we had the Festina doping scandal followed by the Salt Lake City bidding corruption probe; now we have had the Russian doping affair followed by more serious bidding corruption allegations," one seasoned observer of the sports world told me last night, adding: "And, in my opinion, what we have now is far worse than anything before".

In this context, it is vital that the IOC make changes to show how they accept they have a problem and are taking steps to ensure it never happens again.

It seems to me that, in practice, their current ethics procedures help to maintain the status quo rather than facilitate "independent" analysis.

"There are two main jobs of our Ethics Commission," proclaimed Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) honorary life vice-president and ethics chair Wei Jizhong last month before delivering a report about the body's head, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah.

"Firstly, to investigate all cases of violation and, secondly, to protect the personal high reputation and image of OCA official bearers against any 'so called' allegations."

His subsequent oral verdict, surprisingly enough, found all allegations against Sheikh Ahmad to be "fake and fabricated" before the matter was closed.

The arrest of Carlos Nuzman has shone a stronger spotlight on the Olympic Movement ©Getty Images
The arrest of Carlos Nuzman has shone a stronger spotlight on the Olympic Movement ©Getty Images

The OCA is a different organisation to the IOC and the latter body have not publicly described the aims of their Ethics Commission this way.

But Wei’s second point pretty much hit the nail on the head when summarising public perception of most sporting ethics panels.

The problem so far as the IOC are concerned is less with their basic Code of Ethics and more with the actual practical system in place to respond to a case.

At present, potential cases are first received by the Ethics and Compliance Office, a new department set up in 2015 as part of the Agenda 2020 reform process which seems to be largely the domain of one individual, Päquerette Girard Zappelli. She conducts an analysis of the specific case - which is limited by how she has no staff to carry out specific investigatory work - before, if she so wishes, the case is referred to the "independent" IOC Ethics Commission now headed by former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. They will then make a private recommendation back to the Executive Board, who will then deliver a final verdict.

I would question the independence of the Ethics Commission considering how four of its nine members are also members of the IOC and this includes two - Fiji's Robin Mitchell and United States' Athletes' Commission chair Angela Ruggiero - who also sit on the Executive Board. The IOC have also attempted to make a big deal of how its membership is now voted for by the IOC Session, although, in reality, the members are only rubber-stamping a pre-defined list of names submitted to them by the Executive Board.

But its independence is essentially irrelevant anyway because it has no power either to choose cases or to make decisions.

As with most things in the IOC, real power is in the hands of the Executive Board, which essentially means in the hands of its all-seeing President, Thomas Bach.

Ban Ki-moon, left, is the new IOC Ethics Commission chair but Thomas Bach, right, seems to still indirectly have more decision-making power ©Getty Images
Ban Ki-moon, left, is the new IOC Ethics Commission chair but Thomas Bach, right, seems to still indirectly have more decision-making power ©Getty Images

FIFA, for purposes of comparison, have an Ethics Commission consisting of both an investigatory and an adjudicatory chamber. Its independence can also be severely questioned - indeed, who is really "independent" in sport or anywhere in life? - but at least it has its own staff and can make its own verdicts.

A better example can be found with the new International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Integrity Unit. A separate body has been set up here, with its own Board and communications channels, in order to study all doping and corruption cases. 

All members, including its chair, the former World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) director general David Howman, were subject to "stringent" vetting procedures undertaken by a third-party company to ensure they had no conflicts of interest. They then receive an annual grant from the IAAF which is used to conduct their own investigations, probably alongside law enforcement agencies, before they reach a decision. I am told that IAAF President Sebastian Coe will only be informed of this verdict about an hour before it is publicly announced.

I am not sure if this is true, and it is too early to judge the initiative as a success, but this certainly appears a more genuine and meaningful approach to reform than what we have seen so far from the IOC.

I sat through an IOC press conference in July outlining the results of a review of their governance structures and processes undertaken by the Lausanne-based International Institute for Management Development (IMD). The handful of cynical hacks present all noted how the announcement came on the same day that French President Emmanuel Macron was in town to showcase Paris' soon-to-win 2024 Olympic bid, so received minimal attention, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Thirty-three recommendations were tabled of which the most interesting concerned "ethical conduct and reputation".

Ideas touched on here included granting more "independence" to the IOC Ethics Commission to investigate cases of non-compliance as well as stronger sanctions for non-compliance in cases of conflict of interest. They called for greater training and awareness of these issues to be granted to staff and members while, in the longer term, they suggested how the IOC "should consider delegating its sanctioning powers to an independent third party, organisation or commission". In short, the Integrity Unit idea.

Recommendations made about IOC ethical issues in the good governance study ©IOC
Recommendations made about IOC ethical issues in the good governance study ©IOC

IOC director general Christophe de Kepper vowed at this press conference that they would implement a "proper follow-up" to each of the recommendations.

Three months on and we are no clearer about the details of this.

An IOC spokesperson told me today that a "number of recommendations have already begun to be implemented or integrated within IOC operations", adding: "In accordance with its mission, the Audit Committee [chaired by Belgium’s IOC member Pierre-Olivier Beckers-Vieujant] will follow up on the implementation of IMD's recommendations and will provide regular updates to the IOC Executive Board."

They were unable to tell me exactly which ones are being considered and when the process will be completed. Many - but not all - IOC officials insist that their current system remains fit for purpose and does not need to be changed.

In the words of one, the organisation is "squeaky clean" because a "few Zika mosquitoes do not create swamps". Others have criticised their immediate statement after the arrest of Nuzman last week before praising the stronger response issued following an IOC Executive Board meeting the day after, in which the 75-year-old was suspended as an honorary IOC member and "withdrawn" from the Tokyo 2020 Coordination Commission.

So why do these governance changes matter?

It is all about perception. A corruption scandal is always more likely to emerge either through the media or through a law enforcement agency, but sports bodies need to show they have the levers and structures in place to do this as required.

At the moment, this does not happen and people therefore do not trust the IOC or other sports bodies.

Even the second IOC statement on Nuzman, for instance, included the decision to provisionally suspend the entire Brazilian Olympic Committee, so gave a collective punishment at the same time as they have spoken over and over about the concept of individual justice for Russian athletes at Rio 2016. A structured list of sanctions in cases of non-compliance - such as what WADA are demanding but the IOC are opposing for anti-doping issues - would mitigate this, albeit at the expense of the IOC and Bach retaining the control and flexibility to shape every single decision as they wish.  

An even more outrageous example from another organisation concerns the decision to expel Cameroon's Hamad Kolkaba Malboum from the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa Presidential process in May for allegedly breaking campaign rules by using Government money. The decision was made by an Executive Committee headed by incumbent President Lassana Palenfo, who then won an uncontested election attended by Bach.

Strong "ethics" action was taken, but seemingly only to suit a political purpose. 

And this rather sums up a broader sporting approach. 

Changes must be made to the IOC to improve their ethical procedures and independence ©Getty Images
Changes must be made to the IOC to improve their ethical procedures and independence ©Getty Images

Changes here could therefore be crucial as the IOC tread water to respond to bidding corruption probes continuing simultaneously in Brazil and France over coming months.

Most IOC insiders admit that more cases are likely to emerge but insist that they will still be confined to a small minority who affect the reputation of a majority who would do no such thing.

I hope they are right and there certainly are some members who I would be prepared to categorically insist would never take bribes.

A few people I have spoken to, however, have painted a bleaker picture and believe that the whole foundation of international sport could be brought down.

We will see.

But, whatever happens next, it is no longer enough for the IOC to claim that the reforms put into process since the Salt Lake City scandal are working. 

They must do more to prove they are willing to reform and, to borrow one of Bach's favourite phrases, they must "change or be changed".