After two hours of driving through undeveloped Korean countryside, the image upon arriving at the Olympic skiing venues is quite startling: the surrounding ridges are dotted with technologically advanced, energy-generating windmills.
What can this most unexpected visual teach us about the future of Olympic anti-corruption compliance? Quite a lot, actually.
It’s ironic, really: a sporting event notorious for its deleterious impact on environments and geographies has, in South Korea, become a symbol of sustainability. How did it happen? Gradually, over a couple decades. And the Olympic host-country anti-corruption movement may do even better.
Olympic sustainability (I know, those words look odd together) first germinated in the early 1990s. After a 1992 United Nations Earth Summit, the International Olympic Committee forged a partnership with the UN Environment Programme and formalized a commitment “to encourage and support a responsible concern to environmental issues, to promote sustainable development in sport and to require that the Olympic Games are held accordingly.” So too did the IOC create a Sport and Environment Commission and, in 2007, publish the IOC Guide on Sport, Environment and Sustainable Development. Ultimately, in 2014, the IOC enshrined sustainability in its reform platform known as Agenda 2020, and adopted a working principle that every IOC decision must consider the positive and negative impacts on sustainability (environmental and otherwise).
Today, the IOC addresses sustainability at the earliest stages of the bidding process, and requires prospective host cities to develop a sustainability policy in conjunction with stakeholders and expert organizations.
We see the results in Pyeongchang. The 2018 Games will produce zero net-carbon emissions, create and leave behind a full wind farm, utilize a 300-vehicle fleet of electric cars, and donate 10,000 tons of carbon credits to offset any emissions. Yeah. Really.
Of course, the Olympics are far from completely eliminating their negative environmental impact. But guess what? If your goal is to completely eliminate corruption from the Olympics (or from any other human activity) you’re dreaming. Indeed, the economists would tell us we shouldn’t even try; it would be prohibitively expensive (can you imagine?). The realistic goal is not to eliminate these behaviors but to deter them, so that they become the glaring exception rather than the tragic rule. And we know it’s possible. So objections that Olympic environmental issues still exist are certainly valid, but hardly fatal.
The same is true for Olympic host-country corruption. Stories of corruption in the preparation for the Games abound, but as with sustainability, we can and should expect progress. Indeed, the IOC has recently taken credible steps in that direction, amending the model host-country contract to include an anti-corruption compliance provision.
The first Games subject to this contractual provision will be Paris 2024. With a landmark anti-corruption law newly enacted (Sapin II), expect to see France set an ambitious standard for anti-corruption compliance. Here’s my bet that six years from now, we will say that Paris 2024 had become to host-country corruption what Pyeongchang 2018 is to sustainability: a startling, and for that reason all the more encouraging, example of a positive Olympic legacy. More to follow.
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.