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Good sports are open sports

Sports is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. In the UK alone, sports has become a £20-billion-a-year business which supports over 450,000 jobs. However, the scale of the fraud, corruption, doping, match-fixing, financial mismanagement and various other cases of abuse is mind-boggling. Public perceptions of sports integrity are poor: now, for example, the UK public considers sport to be the second most corrupt sector in the country.

Despite the public’s cynicism, corruption is not always to blame; the reconstructed Wembley Stadium is a prime example of failings due to mismanagement and inefficiency. Tagged as one of the century’s most troublesome construction projects, cost and time overruns ballooned the final cost to a whopping £1 billion. The stadium project also suffered from lengthy and complicated disputes including a £253 million claim which was potentially the largest construction claim in UK history. A lot of this came down to failings related to procurement, design, and coordination which were exacerbated by information asymmetries.

Sporting mega-events are especially susceptible to these risks. In Brazil, a slew of corruption allegations abound over the Olympics and World Cup sporting events, including an alleged US$3.7 million paid to former Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes. Six (out of 12) World Cup stadium contracts are now under investigation and Odebrecht executives claimed in a plea bargain deal that the Arena Corinthians was a gift to ex-President Lula to thank him for what he did for Odebrecht over the years when in power. Cost and time overruns were also routine, with the final costs on the Olympics Subway Line in Rio de Janeiro jumping from US$236 million to US$2.5 billion. In another example on one contract for the installation of air conditioning, the cost overrun was more than a thousand times the original contract value!

Clearly, much more needs to be done to safeguard the integrity of sports and its infrastructure so that it can live up to its transformative potential of delivering positive change for all citizens. As a starting point, we need better incentives for good behaviour and stronger penalties for bad behaviour. Red cards work on the field of play, now they need to be applied off the field as well. We need more effective systems for oversight and monitoring. To do this, oversight agencies need significant resources. Yet they are often starved of funds. For example, the combined annual budget for all Anti-Doping Agencies stands at only US$300 million whilst the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) receives a measly US$28.3 million. In comparison, sports federations and clubs make more than US$50 billion per annum. Unsurprisingly, oversight agencies are under-equipped to deal with the issues at hand.

High risk, mega-investments are exactly where open contracting can help. We have developed a range of innovative tools and products, including the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) which enables users and partners around the world to publish shareable, reusable, machine-readable data, to join that data with their own information, and to create tools to analyse or share that data. One of the critical success factors of the London Olympics was the requirement to provide transparency of contracts and progress, which helped to deliver insights into what was going on and what innovative solutions would be needed to deliver improvements. You can read our 5-point plan to open contracting in infrastructure, which is extremely relevant in the world of sport, here.

Alongside all of this, we need stronger lateral cooperation across initiatives. At the end of July, I was invited to speak at the Sports Integrity Global Alliance’s (SIGA) annual Sport Integrity Forum which was held at the UN headquarters in Geneva. SIGA is working hard to deliver their vision of sport played and governed under the highest integrity standards, free from any form of unethical, illicit and criminal activity and we are proud to partner with them. It couldn’t have come at a better time as here at the OCP, we are in an active dialogue with the team behind the Paris Olympics to implement open contracting (driven by the Open Contracting Data Standard) for all the public contracts.

One way to further strengthen our partnership with SIGA is to embed the Open Contracting Principles and the OCDS within the SIGA’s Universal Standards on Integrity in Sports. Joining up our approaches will help us to deliver more effective interventions to restore trust and deliver widespread reform in the world of sport. If you’d like to play on our team too, we’re keen to hear from you. Let us know how we can work together to deliver open sports for everyone!

Foto: Austin Passy (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). With modifications.

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