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Anti-corruption sports organization in works

New momentum for creating a global organization to investigate corruption in sports surfaced as FIFA and UNODC signed a cooperation agreement.

VIENNA (AN) — New momentum for the idea of creating a global organization that would be devoted to investigating widespread corruption surfaced on Monday as FIFA and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime signed a new cooperation agreement.

At a meeting in UNODC's Vienna headquarters, FIFA President Gianni Infantino and UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly signed an agreement to address match-fixing, financial corruption and organized crime in football and sporting events. The idea of creating such an organization has been bandied about for at least a decade or more.

Among other things, the cooperation agreement calls for UNODC to help FIFA lead a consultative process "with the objective of establishing an independent, multi-sports, multi-agency international entity to investigate abuse cases in sports," the U.N. Information Service in Vienna said in a statement.

The U.N.'s leading anti-corruption agency and FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, said the process would include gathering input from people associated with sports organizations, intergovernmental authorities, governments and specialist agencies worldwide.

They said their focus would be on setting up a new organization with trusted reporting lines, a global pool of experts, standardized sanctions and disciplinary measures, and screening processes to ensure perpetrators cannot move from one region to another or between different sports to escape justice.

"Sports support the development of children and youth, and we need sports more than ever in the COVID-19 recovery to make people healthier and happier, and bring jobs back," Waly said. "But in order to harness the power of sports, we need to protect sports integrity.

FIFA and UNODC are focusing their collaboration on "child safeguarding and the protection of vulnerable youth in football, anti-match manipulation and anti-corruption, the legacy of major football competitions, life skills development, anti-discrimination, and social inclusion through football in the context of youth crime prevention," according to UNIS in Vienna.

But the cooperation agreement also reflects efforts to deal with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on sport while the world adjusts to the 'new normal,' United Nations officials said. Since earlier this year, professional leagues in football and other sports shifted to playing in empty stadiums.

'Never again'

Since he became FIFA president in 2016, Infantino, who is himself under Swiss criminal investigation, said FIFA has made "significant strides in relation to good governance and in the area of football integrity, including the fight against match manipulation and safeguarding of children in football."

FIFA also has reportedly weighed a plan to relocate its Swiss headquarters to somewhere that is more conducive to hiring non-Europeans and less renowned for corporate secrecy. Infantino asked for an internal study into the feasibility of FIFA leaving Zürich, the New York Times reported last year.

On Monday, Infantino said "the new FIFA and myself" are absolutely committed to a zero tolerance policy on corruption in global football. The Swiss-Italian lawyer took over world football's governing body in the wake of the much-publicized bribery and corruption scandal that erupted in 2015 from the U.S. Department of Justice’s sprawling investigation of international football corruption.

He suggested FIFA also might provide financial backing for a new global anti-corruption sports organization.

“We at FIFA are ready to invest in it," said Infantino, who is being investigated for holding secret, unofficial meetings with then-Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber. "Maybe the creation of such an agency would help make sport safe in the decades to come.”

Even as he spoke, Qatari football executive Nasser al-Khelaifi and ex-FIFA official Jérôme Valcke were appearing at a federal criminal court in Switzerland for the first day of a corruption trial that is expected to continue for two weeks. The trial includes a third defendant, Greek marketing executive Dinos Deris, also known as Konstantinos Nteris, who was unable to attend for medical reasons.

Lauber was disciplined and stepped down from his govenment post for not revealing his meetings with Infantino. Criminal proceedings over the alleged mismanagement of FIFA money also are underway against Infantino’s longtime predecessor, Sepp Blatter, and former UEFA President Michel Platini.

Infantino pledged in Vienna that "the new FIFA" will work to be efficient, effective and transparent.

"We need to do it and we need your help to push us to continue doing it," he said, glancing towards Waly, the UNODC chief. "So the fight against corruption in sport and in football in particular — and let me say in FIFA as well — is our top priority. "