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Harry Cassin
Publisher and Editor

Andy Spalding
Senior Editor

Jessica Tillipman
Senior Editor

Bill Steinman
Senior Editor

Richard L. Cassin
Editor at Large

Elizabeth K. Spahn
Editor Emeritus

Cody Worthington
Contributing Editor

Julie DiMauro
Contributing Editor

Thomas Fox
Contributing Editor

Marc Alain Bohn
Contributing Editor

Bill Waite
Contributing Editor

Shruti J. Shah
Contributing Editor

Russell A. Stamets
Contributing Editor

Richard Bistrong
Contributing Editor

Eric Carlson
Contributing Editor

What can the Olympics teach us about compliance?

For the global compliance community, the Olympic Games – and all of megasports – are both a teaching tool and a window.

As a teaching tool they elicit interest, raise awareness, and generate discussion on governance issues. Imagine that back in 2016 or 2017, we had conducted a global survey asking folks to pick the world’s biggest corruption scandal: Operation Lava Jato or the FIFA investigation. Which answer wins? That’s easy. When stuff happens in sports, people take notice.

Today, if your organization is having a hard time kick-starting a conversation about anti-corruption compliance or human rights due diligence, try tacking on the phrase, “and sports,” or better yet, in most of the world “and FIFA.” That conversation goes further.

So too do these events provide a window into the state of modern global governance. Megasports show us what we now are, and what we are becoming. In 2022, when we look through this window, what do we see?

We see a transition: the ending of one era, and the beginning of a new one.

The old era involved a painfully long series of corruption and human rights crises. This era starts in 1998 with the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics bribery scandal. From there we get a litany of scandal-plagued events: South Africa, Brazil, South Korea, Russia . . . and now China. Many came to see megasports as nothing but a corruption and human rights problem.

But look more carefully into 2022, and you see something more: a pivot, a transition to a new model. And the transition is occurring in a most unexpected place: Qatar.

When Qatar won the rights to host the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup, the country (by its own leaders’ admission) was, in some respects, in bad shape. Allegations of bribery immediately ensued, but were soon dwarfed by a bigger problem: systemic human rights problems, especially in connection with its enormous migrant labor population.  

While such problems in megasports were by no means new, Qatar’s response was. Qatar leaned in. The government commissioned an independent report, which verified the labor rights problems. Then Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee, called the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, set about adopting reforms. The World Cup preparations became a kind of laboratory for new labor practices and standards. The Supreme Committee then collaborated with the national government to reform its national labor laws with substantial support from the International Labor Organization. Qatar’s explicit goal was to use the World Cup to produce a host-country human rights legacy.

Qatar must now monitor and enforce its new labor laws. The country has much work to do. But in the circumstances, it’s a good problem to have.

And so, Qatar marks the beginning of a new era. Megasports are starting to leave positive anti-corruption and human rights legacies in the host countries. The change is supported by a number of FIFA and International Olympic Committee policies; in a subsequent post I’ll show you one example.

On Feb. 4, we’ll watch the Olympic athletes wave their hands as they process into the stadium for opening ceremonies. Let’s imagine they are waving goodbye . . . to the now-obsolete model of megasport governance these very games represent.

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