The Olympic Games, which open today, have become a powerful symbol in the global anti-corruption movement. They lay bare the worldwide human tendency to abuse entrusted authority for private gain. But so too do they highlight the emergent global resolve to address it and the myriad tools now at our disposal.
Olympic corruption is not an undifferentiated mass. We might say there are three dimensions of Olympic corruption, differing based on who is corrupted, and the measures we are taking to address it.
The first dimension is competitive corruption, in which the corrupted individual is the cheating athlete. The most salient form of competitive corruption is doping, which first arose in the 1970s with East German athletes. To address competitive corruption, the IOC created the World Anti-Doping Agency in 1999. Our effort to deter doping may have just reached its zenith in handing Russia the most severe penalty to date.
The second dimension is international organizational corruption, principally the awarding of bids to host countries based on bribes. Here, the corrupted individuals are those IOC members who sell their votes, thus abusing their entrusted authority for private gain.
Though it’s surely been around forever, the second dimension of corruption erupted in the 1990s with the Salt Lake City bid scandal, and we address it along two dimensions. The first is within the IOC, which has adopted various internal rules to reduce the risk of its members selling votes. The second occurs at the national level, when federal enforcement agencies prosecute those individuals subject to their jurisdiction who offered the bribes. For example, the former head of the Brazilian National Olympic Committee, Carlos Nuzman, is presently subject to a multi-jurisdictional enforcement action involving agencies in Brazil, France, and the U.S. for paying bribes to IOC members.
This second dimension of corruption occurs before the bid is awarded. But once awarded, a third dimension arises, and it’s this third dimension that has dominated the news of the last five years.
This third dimension is host country corruption — corruption among the government officials, Olympic organizations officials, and corporations in the host country. This dimension of corruption occurs in the seven years between winning the bid and actually hosting the Games. It blew up in Sochi, with an estimated $50 billion embezzled. Then came Brazil, and the sprawling anti-corruption investigation that reached the last three presidents, most of their legislative branch, and a great many Brazilian corporations. Most recently, in South Korea we’ve seen the president impeached and leading business leaders prosecuted for corruption that was bigger than, but certainly included, the Winter Olympics.
This third dimension must be addressed principally at the national level. Indeed, we’ve seen robust national enforcement in both South Korea and Brazil (but not Russia). So too have we seen landmark anti-corruption laws adopted in both these countries.
Throughout these Winter Olympics, we’ll highlight the measures taken in South Korea to address corruption, as well as the important IOC reforms introduced just last year to address this third dimension. In the meantime, check out the webpage of our Olympic Anti-Corruption Research Team.
Andy Spalding is a lecturer at the International Anti-Corruption Academy, Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, and Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog.