Johnny Watterson: Displays of integrity by sports bodies are this month’s fashion

It is a wonder sporting bodies found a collective spine with which to respond to Ukraine

Gianni Infantino and Thomas Bach, heads of Fifa and the IOC respectively. Their bodies have been part of the sporting governance rush to unite over Ukraine. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Irony has died for me a thousand times. That’s not a thousand little cuts. That’s a thousand roundhouse kicks. One of the better deaths was in 2010 when the International Centre for Sports Security was set up to ensure greater transparency in the bidding process for major sporting events.

The non-profit has a colour coded website with thrusting messaging. Our Story. Our Impact. Why Our Work Matters. Led by President Mohammed Hanzab, a former lieutenant colonel in the Qatar Armed Forces, it's based in Doha and funded by Qatar. Well waddaya know.

So concern leached out again this week in the governing body rush for the moral high ground over Ukraine's struggle. In that stampede as luck would have it, International Boxing (IBA) just couldn't get a kick, when it decided to continue its opaque relationship with Gazprom.

In its wisdom the IBA and its Russian 'philanthropist and benefactor' president, Umar Kremlyov, has refused to share its Gazprom contract with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as it has signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Umar Kremlyov, head of the International Boxing Association which has decided not to sever ties with Russian gas company Gazprom. Photograph: Valery Sharifulin/ Tass via Getty Images

What that means is the IBA is not in a position to reveal how much money it is receiving from the Russian gas giant. Respect; true to its sleazy, corruptible, incompetent past.

Otherwise the governing body rebellion for decency is as jaw dropping as a foreign workers arriving to the Gulf to build football stadia through a kafeel (sponsor) and into a Kafala system that treated them like medieval serfs.

When you are used to a lifetime of the strong doing what they can and the weak suffering what they must, sports governing bodies recharging their integrity batteries on the Ukraine dime by doing the right thing is not a natural look.

Ethical invertebrates to fully erect and bi-pedal overnight, that’s not in the Darwin book.


All it takes, it seems, is a convincing pantomime villain committing crimes so theatrically egregious that even Fifa, following its initial self-important statement of ‘monitoring the situation’ as actual missiles actually fell on actual cities, felt empowered to shun Vlad.

Okay, so there is a bit of real time whataboutery going on. What about Yemen where a UN report estimated 337,000 dead by the end of last year. What about golf's newest honey pot in the House of Saud, the IOC and China's Uyghur re-education camps, Fifa and Qatar's slave labour.

The wonder is it that the governing bodies had a collective spine to find for Ukraine. An interesting aspect of their belated devotion to the righteous is how it will endure if Kiev is taken and the country falls into an endless bloody insurgency supported by a free flowing supply of weapons from the west.

Then, on which side will the IOC find itself for Paris 2024. Think Berlin 1936, where team Germany had one Jewish athlete, fencer Helene Mayer, to show what a catholic appetite Nazis had for diversity. That worked.

Think Tokyo last summer, where the state sponsored PED Russian cheating machine were allowed to compete as the Russian Olympic Committee. No name, no flag, no anthem, no shame, instead a siege mentality.

There was a tweet some years ago from the Guardian's Marina Hyde that asked if there was a fiercer competition in sport than the struggle to be the most useless governing body. A reply came back pointing out that there were some outstanding candidates.


A joke with a vein of truth, it was former IOC president Jacques Rogge who said: 'Having influence on human rights is the task of political organizations and human-rights organizations. It is not the task of the IOC to get involved in monitoring or lobbying or influencing."

That turned out to be a crock. It was a crock when he said it, the frustration being how little sporting bodies allow the institutional values they profess to hold become involved in real societal engagement or be held as consistent policy instruments. Instead they are venal, a blur of conceit and contradiction.

In a study last year named A Critique of Sports Governing Bodies' Conceptual Inconsistency in Humans Rights Work by Hans Erik Naess, it reported Fifa having 240 national members, the IAAF having 214 and the IOC having 196 members. Together, they represent more than one billion people.

In conclusion the study said that governing bodies are in a position to do a number of things, one of them to circumvent the human rights paradox “whereby the proclaimed universality of human rights is belied by the fact that those rights are only meaningful if one is included within a particular political community.”

Sporting body culpability lies with the fact that the recent mass readjustment of the moral compass for Ukraine has highlighted what unity can achieve but also a blighted and grasping history that has and is ignoring as bad and worse events taking place.

For sports bodies to hold the ugly past for what it is, the past, and then to hope the present outbreak of ethics may be part of the future is too fragile a thought for which to hold out any hope. History tells us it is not likely.

But in their generosity and ability to capture the current zeitgeist in Kyiv sports bodies have also badly exposed themselves for the more difficult stands they have refused to take. Sports body integrity is this month’s fashion and irony is dying.